Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mental health system in Texas in crisis

KPRC-TV in Houston investigates the mental health system in Texas and says it leaves
thousands of people without critical treatment due to both lack of state funding and also a state law that prevents many people from receiving mental health care.

I am glad they are covering the story, but I hate to tell them that the mental health system in Texas has been in crisis for at least 20 years. When I was a medical reporter in Texas in the 1980s, I did many stories about the lack of resources for people with mental illness. In fact, some administrators in the MHMR system were rumored to have used "bus therapy" on people with mental illness, which meant they bought someone a bus ticket to send the person to another funding jurisdiction. Sad, sad.

With a massive deficit looming, the 78th Texas Legislature cut mental health services by only allowing three types of mental illnesses to be treated on a long-term, outpatient basis: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression with psychotic features, KPRC-TV reports.

According to to the American Psychiatric Association, about 300 diagnosable mental illnesses exist.

"In limiting access to individuals, in particular those that I work with that are homeless, to three diagnoses, you leave out an entire population," said Anthony Love, president of Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County.

Deputy chief of psychiatry for the Harris County Hospital District, Dr. Britta Ostermeyer, says "limiting funds for outpatient mental health care creates a surge of people continually going into crisis."

The KPRC-TV investigation shows that "a lack of funding has led to a staggering lack of bed space in Harris County. This, in turn, causes those with mental illness to clog ER's, jails, courts and is feeding the chronically homeless population."