Many Texas residents lack behavioral health services, while mental health symptoms and substance misuse persists across the state. However, novel programs and new funding may help address these concerns. Here’s the scoop on some of these developments.
Texas Lacks in Mental Health Treatment for Children
According to a report from Mental Health America, Texas ranks last in the nation for access to mental health services for children. Many therapists and clients are overwhelmed with waiting lists that stretch for months, and with a mental health labor shortage, the state cannot make full use of its psychiatric hospital space. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has requested $100 million for a school safety and mental health package that would include funding for children’s services.
The lack of mental health options, especially in rural areas, means that most children in Texas are not receiving necessary treatment. This has driven many families to seek initial treatment at hospital emergency departments. The Texas-based nonprofit Children at Risk released its biannual Growing Up In Houston report, noting some of the challenges contributing to children’s mental health include lack of childcare options, not enough school counselors, and family financial stress, as well as education and social disruptions due to isolation during the COVID-19 emergency.
Houston Paramedics Take Direct Approach Against Opioid Misuse
The experimental program Houston Emergency Opioid Engagement System (HEROES) launched in 2018 to help reduce drug overdoses, particularly fentanyl and other opioids. Starting with four employees and led by UTHealth Houston’s Center for Health Systems Analytics, the program now has more than twenty full-time employees, including peer coaches, a physician assistant, and researchers.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, fentanyl-related deaths have increased from about 210 in 2018 to 1,612 in 2021. The usual response to an overdose is to react with emergency treatment and little follow up. Under the HEROES program, and similar programs in other major Texas cities, so-called “second responders,” including a paramedic and a peer coach, offer home visits and ongoing support to patients who have overdosed. Between 80 percent and 85 percent of program participants stay in recovery for at least 90 days.
Texas Higher Ed Receives Funding for Behavioral Health Efforts
Several higher education institutions in Texas have received funding specifically to address the state’s behavioral health needs. Two federal grants have awarded the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley a total of $2,238,994 for mental health services and school safety programs. This funding was partially driven by the deadly school shooting in Uvalde. The funds will help train mental health professionals in providing school-based mental health services.
The University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service’s Department of Social Work received a three-year grant of $1.9 million from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration. The university will use these funds to start a program to train community health workers to help residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area who are in addiction recovery. The program aims to establish certification for community health workers, expand an apprenticeship program, launch a new community health worker training curriculum in substance use disorder, and recruit new workers for underserved groups.
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