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Leader Spotlight: My Perspective on Mental Health Care

The following note was written by MMHPI Board member Sharon Butterworth.

I first became interested in mental health as a long-time volunteer working on different projects with the Junior League in El Paso and the United Way of El Paso. For decades, I have been actively involved at the community and state levels working to improve access to facilities and mental health care services for Texans. I have served on boards of the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, Brain Trust, Southwestern Children’s Home Trust, and J. Edward and Helen M. C. Stern Foundation.

In 1999, I was honored when then-Governor George Bush appointed me to the Texas Department Mental Health Mental Retardation Board, on which I served as vice‑chair. After that, I served as chair of the Department of Aging and Disability Services Council. Last year, I moved to the Health and Human Services Council and I am also a member of the University of Texas at El Paso Development Board and Pan American Round Table of El Paso.

All my experiences have informed my opinion on what I see as one of the greatest challenges in health care, not just in Texas but globally. Mental illness has never been integrated into the primary health care system as part of the whole body the way it should. The brain is an organ just like the heart and the liver, and should be treated as such.

I am passionate about eliminating the bias toward mental illness and being a voice for people who cannot necessarily advocate for themselves. It’s important they have a voice.

I was happy to join the board of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute because our purpose is to support getting policies and procedures in place so that people can get the help they need. One of the first undertakings of the Policy Institute was a statewide survey to identify gaps in Texas continuum of services. As a result, we identified three population groups in immediate need: children and adolescents, veterans, and the mentally ill in our criminal justice system. There is now a leadership council and task force beginning to address gaps in each of those areas.

With our Texas State of Mind initiative, we are bringing local communities together to work on all of our statewide mental health issues. By sharing best practices and learning from one another, we hope to address mental health issues and discrepancies in urban and rural services throughout the state.

Everybody has a different idea of how these issues should be addressed. So it’s exciting to see that people have come to the table and are beginning to communicate. That’s the only way Texas will make progress.