A statewide survey of voters shows that a majority think mental healthcare is underfunded in Texas.
For years, Texas has been at or near the bottom when it comes to spending per person on mental healthcare, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The state regularly ranks 49th or 50th among the states — a statistic that did prompt legislators to increase spending on the issue by $350 million in the last budget.
But according to mental health advocates, the state is still really far behind from where it needs to be, especially given the growing population.
Andy Keller, a researcher with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in Dallas, said county jails and hospital emergency rooms are bearing the brunt in the day to day.
Waiting lists, lack of insurance coverage, and a shortage of mental health professionals and treatment centers all become barriers to treatment, with the result that people become so ill that they experience an acute psychological crisis that lands them in jail or the emergency room, Keller said.
“We actually are catching quite a few people in our safety net,” Keller said. “The question is what do we do after that, do we just sort of brush them off and say ‘Good luck, don’t fall again!’
“So we respond in a crisis, but we don’t have care to continue to treat people,” Keller explained. “We have to recognize that these are chronic illnesses, more akin to diabetes than they are to a car accident.”
The Institute just released results from a survey of more than 800 Texas voters.
“Sixty-seven percent of Texas voters believe that more state and local dollars should be spent on mental health,” Keller said.
The survey showed that even voters in Republican primaries, who tend to be conservative about spending, agreed that mental health services were underfunded.
A third of the respondents also said they wouldn’t know where to go to get treatment for a mental illness.
Keller said the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is not going to lobby for specific laws or policies in Austin, but is there to provide information and act as a resource for legislators.
For instance, it tracks local programs, like school-based mental health clinics, that it says are doing a good job and could be rolled out on a larger scale.