Lawmakers finally tackle mental health crisis

Madalyn Marabella

Fortunately for Texans, our House of Representatives is avoiding the type of partisan bickering that plagues our national government. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s failed health care bill, House Speaker, Joe Straus, R-San Antonio has made quiet progress on several mental health bills in Texas. If the House keeps up its streak of bipartisan progress and the Senate supports its efforts, Texans could see improvements on one of our most pervasive problems.

In Texas, “mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability” and account for about 25 percent of potential years of life lost to illness. A startling 46 percent of people in the country have suffered from a mental health disorder.

Yet in Texas, solving these issues has not been a top priority until recently. We owe the increased attention to mental health to Straus, who “gave the subject matter its due time and credit,” according to Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.

The House seeks to decrease the number of mental health disorders that go untreated. Of the Americans with mental health disorders, only about 40 percent of them receive care. If 60 percent of people with sprained ankles limped around untreated, the state might have responded more swiftly. Although insurance companies must legally cover mental health as they cover physical health, that standard is often not well-enforced.

House Bill 10 would hold insurance companies accountable for covering mental health disorders as comprehensively as they cover other medical disorders by empowering the Texas Department of Insurance to more closely monitor healthcare plans.

The bill’s author, Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, promises the bill would also aid consumers who “are paying for coverage (but are) not able to access adequate treatment.”

A strength of HB 10, which drew broad support in the House, is that it seeks structural change and does not just throw money at the problem. Funneling money into a broken system has failed in the past, such as when an increase in funding did not decrease the wait list of psychiatric patients in 2016.

HB 10 shows that Texas lawmakers have learned from past failure and can unify across party lines for important issues.

HB 11, which Straus has also prioritized, would help diagnose mental health disorders at an earlier age and make mental health a more important component of health class curriculums in Texas schools.

We cannot dismiss mental health disorders even though they manifest less visibly than other medical complications. Mental health disorders have been linked to approximately 90 percent of the 1.1 million suicides attempted annually.

As rates of anxiety and depression rise among younger Americans, particularly college students, state governments must prioritize mental health. Fortunately, Joe Straus understands the severity of our mental health crisis. Texas voters should compel his fellow representatives to rally behind him.

Marabella is a business honors, Plan II and Spanish freshman from Austin. She is a columnist.