Texas legislators are working to create a statewide mental health network to help Texans get better psychiatric care.
Senate Bill 10 by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would create the Mental Health Care Consortium to improve access to mental health services in Texas.
“This initiative focuses heavily on identifying at-risk youth, getting them screened and into treatment so that they don’t present a danger to themselves or others,” said Nelson, who could not be reached for an interview, in a press release.
The Senate budget proposal allocates $100 million in new funding for SB 10.
It would also coordinate research efforts by 12 health institutions, including Dell Medical School.
“The idea is to create this working team who can provide expertise and guidance as Texas continues to build on and improve its mental health public care,” said Stephen Strakowski, chair of UT’s Department of Psychiatry.
Gov. Greg Abbott listed SB 10 as an emergency item at the State of the State last Tuesday. With all 31 senators co-sponsoring it, the bill has full Senate support — something state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said happens when a bill is high priority for both parties.
“Some things have very broad interests across the state, and there are so many things that we need to see progress in in mental health, everything from state hospitals down to the training of mental health professionals and counselors in public schools,” Seliger said.
The Legislature has been increasing its investment in mental health care services and facilities, but this consortium would multiply those efforts, said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.
“The consortium will leverage the state’s academic institutions to increase access to mental health services across Texas, relieve some of the workforce shortages among mental health professionals, coordinate research and increase judicial training on juvenile mental health,” Watson said in an email.
One in five Texans are impacted by mental illness, but there are different ways to treat them, Strakowski said.
“Using different combinations of providers or different types of therapies or medications, we can find a way to provide the best care possible, and those kinds of studies are going on in academic psychiatry departments,” Strakowski said. “(SB 10’s) goal is to take that work and also support additional work to find the best way to give care to people so they have the best outcomes possible.”
Strakowski said if Texas does not improve its mental health care system now, there could be consequences in the future such as additional health problems and increased suicide rates.
“When you don’t take care of mental health, it doesn’t go away, so people end up suffering,” Strakowski said. “Society often thinks that if we don’t pay for it, it doesn’t cost anything, but it ends up drumming up costs in many other areas.”