topics Announcements “There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful”

“There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful”

The Meadows Institute shared its insights for improving youth mental health at a recent Texas Tribune panel

Yes, we have a youth mental health crisis in our country.

And, yes, we have “lots of reasons to be hopeful.”

That was the message shared by the Meadows Institute’s Tegan Henke at a panel hosted by the Texas Tribune May 22 titled “Addressing Young Texans’ Mental Health Needs.”

Henke, who serves as a senior vice president of community systems innovation, began her career as a therapist, giving her a unique view of both practice and policy. She was joined on the panel by Deborah Purge, the special program and training manager for Dallas ISD; Sabrina Browne, a pediatric psychiatrist at Children’s Health and an assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center; and Laura Vogel, the director of mental health services at the Momentous Institute.

The conversation was moderated by Stephen Simpson, the mental health reporter for the Texas Tribune, and it covered a wide range of topics that are impacting the mental health of young people: anxiety, depression, social media, health-care workforce issues, and isolation, to name a few.

But as our country has seen escalating rates of mental health needs for youth over the past decade—as Vogel put it, “the pandemic was an exclamation mark on that”—so too have we seen the addition of programs and resources to provide quality care, with a particular focus on prevention and the early identification of needs.

Meadows Mental Health Texas Tribune PanelFrom left: Deborah Purge of the Dallas ISD, Tegan Henke of the Meadows Institute, Sabrina Browne of Children’s Health, Laura Vogel of the Momentous Institute, and moderator Stephen Simpson of the Texas Tribune.

“I think that greater awareness does lead to more students and more young people acknowledging that they have a mental health need and seeking treatment,” said Henke. “Overall that is a good thing. I see the rise in awareness and the reduction in stigma as an opportunity for us to design systems that are responsive to the needs of students and young people.”

In fact, Henke said, one of the critical roles that schools can play is the early identification of mental health needs and connecting students and families to resources that meet their needs. “If we only identify needs, but don’t do something about it, we are contributing to the crisis,” she said. That is especially important since three-quarters of all mental illnesses manifest themselves by the time a child reaches young adulthood, but on average there can be as much as a ten-year gap between the first symptom and treatment.

She pointed to programs such as TCHATT (Texas Child Health Access through Telemedicine) as a way for children and families to make that connection to care. TCHATT is a telehealth program that was funded by the Texas Legislature in 2019 that connects students to mental health resources through medical schools in their region to licensed mental health professionals to access short-term mental health support that often acts as a bridge to longer-term community outpatient services. “This is available to every school district that wants it,” Henke said.

In addition, the panel spotlighted the successful partnership between the Meadows Institute and Children’s Health called the Behavioral Health Integration and Guidance (BHIG) Initiative. The BHIG Initiative provides training, support, and resources to implement elements of behavioral health integration—with a specific focus on the evidence-based Collaborative Care Model—into pediatric primary care practices to better detect and treat mild-to-moderate behavioral health conditions. In the past year alone, BHIG reached more than 130 area providers who collectively treated nearly 230,000 children and families in North Texas.

Henke also pointed out that the State of Texas approved historic levels of funding during the 2023 legislative session to bolster mental health resources.

“The Texas Legislature invested in three really important programs: coordinated specialty care, which supports people who are experiencing early onset psychosis; multi-systemic therapy for children and youth with the most serious mental health needs; and youth-crisis outreach teams,” Henke said. The goal is that the availability of youth-specific programs will hopefully reduce visits to the emergency room for mental health needs and connect people to less-intensive therapeutic interventions.

While there remains much work to be done, especially related to workforce shortages to ensure that Texas has enough mental health professionals available to meet the need, Henke remains optimistic.

“When I’m asked what gives me hope, it is the young people who are telling us what they need, more than ever before,” she said. “That’s what gives me hope.”

To watch the full video of the panel discussion, go to The Texas Tribune

To learn more about the work that the Meadows Institute does on behalf of children and families, click here.