Local mental health authorities hope they won’t be forgotten in new state budget

KBTX First News at Four(Recurring)
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 6:50 PM CST
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AUSTIN, Texas (KBTX) - Another school shooting has left three University of Virginia students dead, as Texas--and the nation--is still reeling from the massacre at a Uvalde elementary school in May. While it’s always been important, young people’s mental health has been brought into the spotlight by some lawmakers as the key to preventing future tragedies.

Proposals for increased support have been made, but local mental health authorities in Texas are left wondering whether they’ll actually be prioritized in a few months when legislators meet to discuss the state’s budget.

Karen Harper, a health and human services reporter for the Texas Tribune, joined First News at Four to discuss her recent story on the state’s struggling 39 mental health authorities. These centers are looking for a sign from state leaders that they’ll get some relief, but nothing concrete has been promised.

“Generally speaking, the Republican leadership has identified child mental health as a priority issue. What we don’t know is how much money they’ll invest in it beyond what they’re investing now,” explained Harper.

Compared to other states and Washington, D.C., Texas currently ranks 51st in access to mental health care.

According to Harper, one of the biggest problems facing mental health care providers is a shortage of staff. This impacts the number of kids that can be served.

“Then the funding doesn’t meet the demand is a really simple way to say to say that,” she summarized.

Texas’ local mental health authorities partner with local schools, governments and community programs to treat adults and children with severe mental illnesses, particularly low-income or rural Texans.

Harper says “I think you’d be hard pressed to find one of these publicly funded agencies that is fully funded. By their estimation I think they are all stretched.”

Watch the full interview in the player above.