There is a growing shortage of mental health services in Texas. It’s a crisis that will only get worse if the state doesn’t invest more in its mental health workforce.
My wife and I attended our first NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) http://www.nami.org/ family-to-family meeting last night. It was good to meet with other couples and single caregivers. We learned a lot. Unfortunately, owing to the stigma associated with mental illness, family members of those afflicted by mental illness seldom seek support for the pain and anxiety they experience. Many lose hope that their loved ones will ever be well or even stable enough to function in society. They become sick themselves with grief.
NAMI in Dallas is a grassroots family and consumer self-help organization dedicated to relieving the effects of severe mental illness on individuals, family members, and society. The organization does this through support, education, and research. In addition to family-to-family meetings and training, NAMI organizes and conducts peer-to-peer support meetings for the afflicted who are willing to participate. The organization conducts Education programs (With Hope in Mind, and Visions for Tomorrow), and provides information and referral through a multi-cultural outreach including an interfaith program. The organization also provides advocacy with state and local governments through volunteers.
Participants in the meeting last night took turns introducing themselves and briefly sharing their stories. When it was our turn, my wife shared about our son and his situation, I spoke briefly about our granddaughter. Both suffer with mental illness but each has very different issues, very different diagnoses, and very different histories of coping.
We learned from the other participants that we are not alone. In the stories told by the others, we heard much of our own. Feeling bonds of understanding and empathy with the others, we were encouraged. We talked about finding ways to find and sustain hope, even in what seems to be hopeless circumstances. We also learned more about state and local agencies and about private resources, psychological and legal.
Sadly, we learned too that there is a growing shortage of mental health services in Texas and that it is a crisis that will only get worse if the state doesn’t invest more in its mental health workforce. Fat chance of that, however, with our budget shortfall last fiscal year, one likely for the next year, and the governor refusing to tap into Rainy-Day funds for public services.
In 2009, one hundred seventy-one (171) Texas counties out of two hundred fifty-four (254) lacked a psychiatrist in mental health offices. One hundred two (102) counties lacked a psychologist, and forty-eight (48) counties did not have a licensed professional counselor. Forty (40) counties had no social worker – all this according to a briefing published by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin and the San Antonio-based nonprofit Methodist Healthcare Ministries http://www.scribd.com/doc/53286433/Mental-Health-Workforce-Shortages-in-Texas.
The multiple underlying causes, according to the briefing, include an aging workforce that’s beginning to retire, recruitment and training challenges, lack of professional internship sites in Texas, a growing and increasingly diverse population and inadequate pay and reimbursement rates in the public mental health system. But who cares? This seems to be the prevailing attitude in our Texas state legislature.
Most people don’t think mental health is an issue that they need to be concerned with. They think it only affects others’ family members, that it could never happen to them. Yet statistics show that nearly half of all Americans will experience a mental health problem sometime in their lives http://www.nmha.org/go/state-ranking.
Notwithstanding the good mental health ranking Mental Health America (MHA) gives to Texas, there are problems and they are growing. In Texas last year (2010), an estimated 489,000 adults had a serious, persistent mental illness and roughly 155,000 children had a severe emotional disturbance. Only 33.6 percent of these adults and 28.9 percent of these children received services through their community health system. This could be one reason why the MHA data are so skewed I speculate http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/datareports.shtm. Another reason could be the large number of persons with mental health issues incarcerated in Texas. Services they receive aren’t counted with the services received by Texas citizens at large.
The Hogg Foundation paper (see the above link) identifies seven steps that Texas could take now to start to reverse the shortage in mental health professionals. They include: Expanding graduate education programs, developing tele-health opportunities and requiring professional boards to collect data that will aid in identifying specific racial, ethnic, cultural and linguistic workforce shortages.
It’s the same trouble with nursing. The nursing shortage extends across the nation and to Texas, but what we really have is a nursing educator shortage. That means there aren’t enough teachers to train the next crop of willing nurses — particularly ones who want a bachelor’s degree or higher credential in the field.
Ashley Zugelter is the Executive Director of NAMI Dallas. Marsha Rodgers is the Office Manager. Both of these staff members can be reached at the NAMI office at 214-341-7133. The general email address for NAMI Dallas is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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