A Christian Response to Mental Health Needs in Texas

In the last decade, there have been numerous mass shootings across the country. Tragically, many of these have involved innocent children in schools. Particularly, mass school shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary, where toddlers were slaughtered, awakened the debate about addressing mental health concerns. Last year, a local Houston area school, Sante Fe High School, triggered an immense wave of support in the Texas Legislature for youth mental health and fostering a better approach to treating behavioral needs in both adolescents and adults.

Since the traumatic event at Sante Fe, Gov. Greg Abbott, R-TX, has voiced his opinion about passing legislation that would take action against Texas’ mental health problem. In the Lone Star State, nearly one in five adults in Texas will experience mental health needs (Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, 2016). In addition, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17, about 15 million, have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder in a given year (Stone et al., 2017).

These are two vital statistics to inform Texas’ social policy on the topic of mental health needs in Texas.

During the 86th Texas Legislature, a bill considered was S.B. 10. This bill would’ve been a much-needed step forward for Texas and mental health access! S.B. 10 would’ve improved quality and efficiency of mental health services in Texas for adults and youth, created more pathways for services for more evidenced-based treatments, created more employment opportunities for behavioral health workforce, and create a network of higher institutions that will identify early behavioral concerns and conduct research to address mental health in Texas (Texas Mental Health Care Consortium, 2019).

I was glad to see Texas finally moving in the right direction to tackle such a vital area that impacts many systems. As a professional that works with youth, I saw why addressing mental health is imperative. If the state didn’t have the proper providers or research to accurately treat youth, potential adverse could’ve happened like entering the justice system. Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, and Mericle (2002) identified an estimated sixty percent of youth in juvenile centers have a diagnosable mental illness. That’s a large percentage of adolescents with behavioral needs in the criminal justice system!

As a Catholic, legislation that addressed mental health is fundamental to advancing a society that treats people with dignity. Just as Jesus Christ came on earth and healed many people, he never neglected to see broken vessels as Child of God. I can remember Jesus’ words to the paralytic. Not only did he heal the physical but reached down to the soul to loosen the grip of sin (Matt 9:1-5). I think mental health treatment can learn from Jesus’ encounters. They were dignified healings that always sought to bring the good out of the divine image-bearer.

Yes, even though those suffering the uneasiness of mental distress carry a heavy cross, they are sons and daughters of God. They are his property! As St. Pope St. John Paul II said “Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in themselves, as does every human being. “

In order to advance an authentic pro-life message, more has to be done in Texas. This could be a good starting point for the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. During the 85th Legislative Session, the Texas Bishops declared “The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops holds that health care is not a privilege, but a right that should be available to every human being.”

This is a bold statement for the equity of health services for all in Texas. The sentiment is one that we can all endorse and advocate to advance the common good.

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Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Relating to the creation of the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium, S.B. 10, 86th Legislature. (2019).

Teplin, L., Abram, K., McClelland, G., Dulcan, M., & Mericle, A. (2002). Psychiatric disorders in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry. 59, 1133- 1143.

Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. (2016). Texas Mental Health Landscape – Brief Overview. Retrieved from https://www.texasstateofmind.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Brief-Overview-of-Landscape.pdf