The State of Our Children: Mental Health / Part III

WORDS
The Texas Tribune writers and DFWChild editors
ILLUSTRATION
John J. Custer
PUBLISHED
March 2017 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
March 8, 2017
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The status quo: On Christmas Day 2014, life in David and Norma Walker’s Garland home started happy. Sadie, one of their four children, opened her gifts and went outside to ride her new skateboard. But the15-year-old didn’t return. She had taken her life in a remote spot just down the street from her house.
 
The Walkers say Sadie showed no signs of depression and never gave any hint of being suicidal.
 
Over 1.4 million Texan children suffer from a mental illness, often in silence or by acting out.
 
If Texas doesn't take bolder steps to fix its mental health system, the consequences could be perilous for the state — and for our children.
 
Consider this: The Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health released a 109-page report in January of this year saying that mental health “is absolutely one of the most critical areas of concern” facing the state right now.

The report outlined challenges and opportunities for the state in tackling issues troubling the system, including early intervention for schoolchildren with behavioral health issues.

"The opportunity to improve our mental health system this year is real and it's important," House Speaker Joe Straus says. "A smarter approach to mental health will improve treatment and care while saving taxpayers money."
The report states, "If we fail to adequately invest and earnestly address the issues now, we do so at our own peril because the societal, medical and criminal justice costs alone will be extremely high. In short, the problems will not simply go away on their own. In fact, they will only increase as Texas continues to grow."
 
The report comes during what is thought to be a tight-fisted legislative session with a total of $104.87 billion in state funds for the two-year budget, a 2.7 percent decrease from 2015.
 
The committee said the state appropriated $6.7 billion toward behavioral and mental health services for 2016-17. Texas lawmakers increased funding in the previous two legislative sessions, but the committee warned it was aware that "funds, whether federal, state, or local, are limited.”
 
However, members wrote they were "optimistic that the services being provided can be maintained and enhanced even in these challenging fiscal times."
 
SIDEBAR

Get Involved

 
Help spread awareness of the need for more access to mental health therapies by becoming a mental health advocate through the legislative advocacy training program put on by Mental Health America (MHA) of Greater Dallas. The half-day seminar teaches you which mental health issues are being discussed in the Legislature, how to write effective letters and emails to your local lawmakers, even how to have a productive face-to-face office visit with legislators. Register online to see upcoming class dates.
Dallas, 214/871-2420
Fort Worth, 817/335-5405

The goal of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Texas is to improve public policies that improve the lives of children living with mental health conditions. Volunteers help with fundraising efforts, learn the step-by-step tools to participate in grassroots advocacy to influence policymakers or answer the helpline calls. On May 13, join NAMI’s efforts by volunteering or participating in Dallas’ 5k-NAMI Walk to raise awareness for Mental Health Month.
Collin County, 214/908-6264; namicco.org
Dallas, 214/341-7133; namidallas.org
Fort Worth, 817/332-6677; namitarrant.org
Lewisville, 469/248-8789; namidenton.org

Denton County MHMR helps families struggling with suicide, depression and mental illness. Most of the volunteer opportunities involve clerical duties such as filing, data entry and folding brochures, but there is a position that allows you to shadow case managers during appointments and home visits too. Get more information online.
Denton, 940/381-5000

SIDEBAR

Now Hear This

Facebook shares and likes and Twitter retweets can’t create change. Calling your representatives on the phone (or emailing them can). Calling is the most effective way to have your voice heard (aside from making an in-person visit). Calls are tallied by staffers and the count is given to your representatives, informing them how strongly their constituents feel about an issue. So reach out now. (Type your address into fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx to find out who represents you.)
SIDEBAR

An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Rep

Find your reps here

Telephone calls will be taken by a representative’s aide, or you may have to leave a message. After identifying yourself, and providing your phone number, say that you’re a constituent from District ____, ZIP code ____ and that you support or oppose Senate Bill ____ or House Bill ____ (the aide keeps tallies). State the reasons for your support or opposition, then thank your representative for their work.

If you prefer to email, state your purpose for writing in the first paragraph, giving your stance on the Senate or House bill number, and include examples to support your position.

It goes without saying, you should always be courteous and polite, and only address one issue in each phone call or letter. 


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