The Harris County Jail has often been called the state’s largest mental health care facility. That’s because a high number of inmates are mentally ill. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and County Judge Ed Emmett are among those who have repeatedly called for a better way to deal with those with mental health issues who end up in jail.
The Houston Galveston Institute (HGI), a nonprofit counseling center, is taking a step to address the problem of mental health care access.
Starting in less than two weeks, the center will offer walk-in counseling — a unique program in Houston.
“It’s really hard for people to access health care, and mental health care even more so.”
That’s Sue Levin, executive director of HGI. She says one of the biggest barriers for people seeking mental health care is cost, especially since mental health is often not covered by health insurance plans.
“Another barrier is that waiting list. So, sometimes when people call for a service, especially if it’s an agency where there’s a high demand for low-fee services for example, they’re put on a waiting list, and it can be a couple of weeks or even longer.”
The organization’s walk-in program will address those problems. People who want to see a therapist don’t need to make an appointment and can just “walk in” for a one-hour counseling session. Counseling fees with HGI are calculated by the patient’s income and run from $25 to $110 per session.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who attended the announcement of the new program, says mental illness is a big issue in Houston and Harris County.
“I think every family either has a family member or a close friend or a neighbor who has mental health issues, and for too many years mental health was the sort of the health care issue we didn’t like to talk about it. And we need to talk about it.”
He hopes the walk-in program will reach more people in need of mental health counseling and work toward reducing the number of those with mental health issues who end up in jail.
“…particularly if it’s set up like this one I believe will be, to where it’s welcoming, to where people, you know, don’t feel like, well, I’ve got to make an appointment with some sterile unit somewhere and go bare my soul.”
The program will launch on July 27 and be available every Saturday from then on at the Houston Galveston Institute in the Montrose area.