Still reeling from the shock of a school shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 first-graders and six educators, the nation started 2013 with a renewed debate on gun control.
But because many politicians in Washington and around the country didn’t want to talk about guns, they quickly shifted the discussion to another problem that factored into the Sandy Hook tragedy: mental health.
That was good news for state and local mental health agencies.
In Texas, after a decade of cuts for mental health services in a state that ranked 49th in the country for such funding, the Legislature passed a bill in 2013 that allocated about $300 million more for mental health than in the previous session, according to The Texas Tribune.
So at the beginning of this year, instead of mental health professionals bemoaning drastic decreases in funding, they are talking about expanding services, MHMR of Tarrant County CEO Susan Garnett told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board Friday.
Part of the additional money was to eliminate the long waiting list of about 5,400 statewide who were seeking mental health services.
Hundreds of people, including children, were on the waiting list in Tarrant County, Garnett said, pointing out that those in need were requesting psychiatrist appointments, medication and other in-home supports.
Other services being expanded locally with an additional $6.8 million in funding include:
• The YES (Youth Empowerment Services) waiver program, intensive community-based services to assist children and adolescents with severe emotional disturbances to live in the community with their families.
• Mental Health First Aid, a training program for school personnel to provide aid to children in need.
• Community collaboration projects for the homeless in Tarrant County.
In addition, MHMR has opened CARE House, the state’s first Department of State Health Services-funded adolescent crisis respite unit.
“We are so thankful for the Legislature and our elected officials like Sen. Jane Nelson, who sponsored legislation that provided this additional funding to the people we serve in Tarrant County,” Garnett said.
It’s been a long time since local mental health officials have sounded this excited about anything the Legislature has done.
Although she noted that the additional money already is changing lives, Garnett cautioned that “we still have a long way to go” to fully meet the need.