Mental health is as important as physical health. Both are inextricably intertwined, a fact Texas is recognizing with an increased commitment to improving mental health across the state.
"People living with mental illness die on average 26 years younger than the general population,” said Sonja Gaines, the Health and Human Services associate commissioner overseeing behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disability services.
Sparked by legislative direction provided by a special provision authored by state Sen. Jane Nelson and included in the Health and Human Services Commission’s 2016-2017 budget, Gaines spearheaded the creation of the Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
The council is a coalition of 23 state agencies charged with coordinating efforts to improve mental health across Texas. The council’s work is critical because mental health overlaps services provided by multiple state agencies.
"Improving someone’s mental health makes them less likely to need other services and more likely to get and keep a job,” Gaines said. "They are also more likely to stay in school and stay out of the criminal justice system."
Find Mental Health Resources
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and provides an opportunity to raise awareness about mental health issues.
- One in five people will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.
- One in 20 people will develop a serious mental illness.
- Half of all cases of mental illness start by age 14, and three-quarters by age 24.
Visit the MentalHealthTX.org to find information and resources for mental health related needs or to support someone who needs help.
Texas lawmakers allocated $700 million more in mental health programs and services last session, even during a tight budget cycle.
"Texas has made significant investments in our mental health system, which is crucial for the future of our state,” said Nelson, who chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee. “I’m proud of our commitment to this issue and will continue to press for legislative action to help Texans struggling with mental health issues."
To that end, Gaines is working with a consolidated team since the behavioral health programs transferred in September 2016 from DSHS to HHSC in the department she oversees, Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services. Together the department is moving forward with plans to reach more people, evaluate success and grow and expand services across the state.
The department developed a strategic plan to set goals and benchmarks that they will evaluate every year.
"We are actively improving coordination across state agencies, addressing gaps and compelling state-funded systems to become more efficient and effective,” Gaines said. "We have great teams at HHS and the coordinating council. We are working with great people across the state. This is a core part of the HHS mission, making a difference in the lives of the people we serve."