Texas’ Mental Health System
By Donald Wayne
A Mixed Bag
Years ago, I was a stringer photographer for the local newspaper in Huntsville, Texas, covering an execution. I was outside the “Walls” unit, and toward that fateful midnight, when the execution took place, I photographed protesters, and advocates, stood beside the TV news videographers pointing their lenses at the lit outside clock. I was at a remove, but it was one of the most brutal events I’ve ever been through.
While Texas seems to be a mecca of law and order, mental health services are often underfunded. While the nation spends per capita about $125, the state of Texas spends $39. In a Dallas Morning News essay online, Clayton McClesky, writing about mental illness and suicide, points out that when a few years ago the West Nile Virus killed seven people in Dallas, the authorities spent $3 million for aerial spraying of mosquitoes. It is a matter of emphasis. Nor is access so good. About 488,520 in the state have serious mental illness, while 156,880 are being served. That’s about 33 percent. I think that may be due to a shortage of mental healthcare workers, as is the case in Texas.
Yet paradoxically, I have had good results. The procedure is something like this: you call the Texas Mental Health number, and participate in a phone interview. If you qualify, you then get an in-person interview, and if qualified after that interview, are assigned mental health services. I was assigned a therapist, and have had three. My most recent, helping me for about five years. She was a godsend, and though it’s been difficult, I have nothing but respect for her. The mental health staff and professionals are caring, highly capable people.
A few years ago, my rural mental health center opened a Peer Support Center, and it is quite nice, with many donors and volunteers. It’s a place to relax. Sometimes we have big meals around the holidays, and there are computers, a television, and meeting rooms. I myself have been a Peer Center Board Advisor and have been on television and in the newspaper doing interviews about the Center. More recently, the Center serves veterans. There is a major military base in central Texas; therefore helping veterans in mental health is especially needed. Pointing veterans to resources have been important, and volunteer colleagues have done a good job in staffing the center for all consumers.
Some years ago, the Texas legislature passed a bill that makes claims on Medicaid beneficiaries, like me, if one is 55 or older. Once a recipient dies, the State makes a claim on the person's estate, unless there is less than $10,000, or a spouse is still living, to make up for repeated expense to the State. I know, I know, there is no free lunch, but as I have never married and as my home is about the only thing of value I own, and it was inherited, I wanted to give it to whom I chose in my will. So, in this respect, I feel a little brutalized.