“We have reason to be hopeful about where we’re at on mental health in this legislative session,” says Greg Hansch, public policy director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Texas.

The Hogg Foundation recently released its list of policy priorities for the 2017 legislative session. These are recommendations for state policymakers on strengthening key areas of the mental health system, including:

  • Peer Support Services
  • Mental Health Workforce Development Plan
  • Strengthening the Mental Health Workforce
  • Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Care for Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities
  • Integrated Health Care
  • Mental Health Funding
  • Mental Health Parity
  • State Psychiatric Hospital Beds and Infrastructure

Alison Boleware, policy fellow at the Hogg Foundation, informs us on several bills related to the mental health workforce, peer support services, trauma-informed care and peer support services. Alison is also watching several bills in criminal justice and child welfare that have mental health components woven in. She comments on the dynamic nature of session and how priorities shift a little depending on how bills are received.

Alison reminds us that advocates work on bills and topic areas for months before the sessions even begin, and that there’s incremental change even if bills don’t pass.

Following Alison’s update, we hear from Greg Hansch, public policy director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Texas, as he tackles an important question: What do citizens have a right to expect from public policy in mental health?

Greg outlines three key components of an effective mental health system:

  1. We should expect appropriate messaging and non-stigmatizing language. Policy makers should ensure they’re accurately portraying mental illness in their public comments.
  1. We need to expect policy makers to provide for appropriate prevention measures as getting a diagnosis is an important first step.
  1. Finally, Greg comments that treatment is a fundamental expectation and that individualized treatment should be offered.

These three important—but basic—expectations should be the minimum. Greg adds that housing, employment and other support systems are critical as well. Overall, he calls for additional capacity in our mental health system, as well as mental health parity reform.

“In the last session we saw a bipartisan call for addressing the issue of chronically underfunding mental health in our state. We’ve seen a lot of change since then,” says Greg, “That said, we still have a long way to go, especially compared to other states.”

There’s a lot at stake in this legislative session, as well as with national-level policies regarding the health coverage of millions of Americans.

In response, the Hogg Foundation has released a new edition of the Guide to Understanding Mental Health Systems and Services in Texas. This guide serves as a powerful educational and advocacy tool to help identify challenges and opportunities inherent in the Texas behavioral health system. Policy makers and mental health advocates can download the full guide at no cost.

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