Most Texans can’t find or afford mental health care, according to a new report – MMHPI – Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute
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Most Texans can’t find or afford mental health care, according to a new report

This article was originally published by Texas Public Radio on January 2, 2024.

This story discusses data related to mental health. For resources and support, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text HOME to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Text Line.

A national state-by-state report from insurance company Milliman and mental health policy group Inseparable shows Texans with mental health needs struggle to find and afford treatment.

Pennie Beauchamp, the interim executive director for Mental Health America Greater Dallas, said poor mental health “drastically affects your quality of life.”

“Your mental health affects every part of your day,” she said. “It affects your relationships, it affects your family life, it affects your work life.”

According to the report, more than 88% of Texans live in a county where there aren’t enough mental health providers. The national Health Resources & Services Administration designates these areas as “Health Provider Shortage Areas,” or HPSAs. Texas has the worst ratio of providers to people in the country, with about 690 people to every one provider in the state on average.

“It’s dire,” said Beauchamp. “We just don’t have access to care, and if we do have access to care, the population more or less can’t afford it.”

For Texans diagnosed with a mental health condition, the report said only about 21% received specialty care, and accessed on average about eight therapy sessions a year.

Part of the reason for that low number could be cost, said Beauchamp: The average cost of an out-of-pocket therapy session in Texas, according to the report, can be more than $160, and even with insurance could be $68 or more.

More than 16% of Texans are uninsured, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Psychiatrists are also “less likely to accept healthcare coverage of all types compared to other specialties,” according to the report, limiting access to psychiatric medication.

But Beauchamp said mental health treatment shouldn’t be a “luxury” that only certain groups can afford and access.

“If I could put a PSA out there for the beginning of the year, move your mental health care to the top, let’s make that a priority,” she said.

Andy Keller, president of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), said these barriers are “universal issues” for health care, including mental health. Despite federal protections, Keller said there’s a lack of mental health parity, which means equitable coverage under insurance for health and mental health issues.

“Until we really have a common standard for mental health, we’re not going to be able to make progress,” he said.

Keller said there’s also a need for more prevention strategies for kids and their families. Kids can have symptoms of anxiety as early as eight years old, and often these symptoms manifest two years before an official diagnosis, according to a 2016 study from Duke University.

Keller said pediatric providers, educational staff, and families need to know how to recognize and identify signs of poor mental health in kids.

“We lack proactive support for mental health to support parents, because these are largely pediatric illnesses,” Keller said. “Parents and caregivers really need to be our focus.”

To improve pediatric mental health diagnostics and care, Texas launched the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN) in 2020.

CPAN is a hotline for pediatricians and other health providers treating children to consult with mental health experts to identify the best courses of treatment for their patients.

Keller encourages people to start a conversation with a loved one about how they’re feeling and seek help if they’re not sure what to do.

“These are sensitive, difficult issues to talk about, and so have someone help you with that,” he said. “These are medical illnesses. Take it seriously. Say, ‘Hey, let’s go talk to your doctor. I’ll go with you.’ The biggest thing is [to] support the person.”

View the article on Texas Public Radio.