Great progress, challenges mark Mental Health Awareness Month 2021
Mental Health Awareness Month is a time when we turn our attention toward the importance of improving mental health care while reducing the stigma associated with it.
The mental health needs of people across the state and nation are growing significantly due to the impacts and stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s also taking place after years of the Texas Legislature making strong investments in improving mental health care, which has placed Texas in a much better position to deal with the increased needs.
This is particularly true in children’s mental health. Over the past several sessions, Texas has created a number of programs designed to increase care for children. This is especially crucial since half of all mental illnesses emerge by age 14, and three-quarters by a person’s mid-20s.
The key is to deploy screening, detection, and early intervention in the two places where the adults who care for them are best able to help children – the family doctor and the local school.
During the 86th session, Senate Bill 11 brought together all 12 of our publicly funded medical schools to improve mental health care for children and adolescents by creating the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, home to innovative programs like the Child Psychiatry Access Network, or CPAN, and the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, also known as TCHATT.
In its first year, CPAN has vastly expanded access to mental health care for Texas children and their families by giving every Texas primary care provider serving children access to their own real-time psychiatric consultant from a leading Texas medical school. Primary care is the best-positioned part of our health system to detect illness.
Nearly 5,000 Texas primary care providers have engaged in the network and more than 1,500 consults have taken place in less than a year.
TCHATT provides telemedicine and telehealth programs to school districts to help identify and address the urgent mental health needs of children and adolescents and provide access to mental health services.
144 Texas school districts and thousands of schools now have access to TCHATT. This means that over 1.35 million students currently have access to TCHATT services, a number that will reach 2 million by next school year. Thousands have already been served, including specific outreach to Black and Latino students in numbers on par with the overall child population of Texas.
These investments, and many more, are going to prove even more invaluable than originally expected, since COVID-19 has put such a strain on resources. COVID-19 has resulted in a four-fold increase in anxiety and depression symptoms across the country.
This year, Mental Health Awareness Month may also serve as a reminder for everyone to check in on our friends and family members to see how they are doing, and, when we have our own mental health concerns, to ask for help.
This has long been the objective of Okay to Say, our mental health public awareness campaign that is based on one simple message: it’s okay to talk openly about mental health. The campaign launched a new resource page this week and unveiled a thought-provoking exhibit at the Texas Capitol that will also be on display at locations across the state, including Houston City Hall and Discovery Green park.
So, this Mental Health Awareness Month, join us in that crucial mission, and provide a safe, accepting climate for your friends and family to seek out help. Because, while we can work together to create world class resources and services, if our friends, family members and colleagues don’t feel safe to speak up when they are experiencing mental health concerns, then we are going to have a difficult time seeing real progress.