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TEXAS VIEW: Increase funding for mental health - Odessa American: Views

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TEXAS VIEW: Increase funding for mental health

THE POINT — Taking care of people with mental issues now means future benefits to taxpayers.

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 8:01 pm

This legislative session might not be the horror show of budget slashing Texans witnessed two years ago, but lawmakers still have difficult decisions ahead on funding priorities.

One area where state budget-writers should not scrimp — and should actually take the opposite route and increase funding — is mental health. News reports thus far have been encouraging, indicating the Legislature is considering appropriating millions more in funding for mental health programs in its two-year budget plan, but nothing has been set in stone. Advocates for mental health and families who have members struggling with mental health issues must remain vigilant and keep pressure on lawmakers to help ensure these vital needs are not ignored.

As it stands, at the state Capitol recently, The Associated Press reports the House of Representatives passed a proposed budget bill with a $260 million appropriation for mental health programs statewide. The extra state funds are intended to eliminate waitlists statewide for all public mental health centers.

That is good news, indeed, if it makes the final version of the budget that hits Gov. Rick Perry’s desk, though we wonder if it goes far enough with a need that is so pressing and has been given short shrift for so long.

Not only is collectively taking care of our mentally ill the morally right thing to do, in the end it should pay off financially for taxpayers. This is because state prisons and county jails are filled with fellow Texans struggling with mental issues that have much to do with why they find themselves behind bars. Anything that can be done to properly treat or house these individuals outside the prison system in the long run should reduce the fiscal burden.

As 111th District Court Judge Monica Notzon said recently for an article in the Laredo Morning Times, “I saw a huge need for mental health services amongst the populations of criminal defendants I saw in my courtroom after two months in office. . There is a genuine frustration amongst everybody that handles these cases, from jailers to defense attorneys.”

Advocates for the mentally ill often correctly point out criminal defendants with mental illness often self-medicate with drugs, ultimately feeding them into a vicious cycle of re-incarceration without rehabilitation.

In Brazoria County, the need for reliable mental health services, especially for the indigent, long has been a desperate one. With little to no services available here, patients often must travel to Galveston or Houston for such treatment, finding the means to do that often isn’t easy or even feasible.

The sad fact is many of the mentally ill end up in the criminal justice system. “By the time they’re arrested, they’re either a threat to themselves or someone else,” said Carie Fletcher, Gulf Coast Community Coalition/Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol coordinator, in a Facts article from 2007. “If there were a facility, they may be able to access services before then.”

We hope, despite the continuing sluggishness in parts of the economy, that calls for better mental health care do not go unheeded and that lawmakers do all they can to boost desperately needed funding.

Odessa, TX

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