In Texas, approximately one million adults are affected by a serious mental illness – from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and more – and half a million children under age 17 suffer from a severe emotional disturbance.
Data from an October 2016 report also shows that 1.6 million adults and 181,000 children ages 12 to 17 suffer from substance abuse disorders statewide.
Annually, Texas spends $1.4 billion in emergency room costs and $650 million in local justice system costs to address mental illness and substance use disorders.
House Speaker Joe Straus from San Antonio says mental health is a major public health issue and a "top priority" for the current legislative session. Representatives appointed to a House Select Committee on Mental Health concluded that funding and access to treatment are major pain points for Texans in need of mental health care. The House has tentatively passed a law regarding the equal coverage of mental and physical health care by insurance companies.
Mental health advocates say other policy priorities include increasing the availability of peer support services, educating the general public about mental health, and pairing jail diversion and reentry strategies with increased access to quality care. Bexar County's programs for diverting prisoners with mental health problems away from jail, for example, could be a leading effort for the rest of Texas.
Will state lawmakers find solutions for mental health concerns in Texas?