City makes welcome investment in mental health care

Our country’s mental health crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, is undeniable in San Antonio.

Meeting mental health needs is a complex challenge, requiring considerable resources and unwavering political attention. While the state has left much to be desired in this regard – we are once again reminded of how Mental Health America ranked Texas last in access to mental health care – local leaders have blazed a bright trail. .

Cue the San Antonio City Council, which sent a powerful message on Sept. 1 when all members present — District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez, a mental health services advocate, was absent — approved a plan to implemented to allocate $26 million in federal pandemic relief funds for mental health services.

The effort will focus on the mental health needs of young people, the elderly, and people who are homeless or coming out of foster care. It’s a smart, compassionate plan and a good use of funds from the $326.9 million American Rescue Plan Act funding San Antonio received last year.

We also appreciate the process. The city took great care in planning this two-year initiative, engaging stakeholders and collecting data.

Of the total $26 million allocation, $22.75 million will go to competitive grants and $3.25 million to municipal programs related to mental health.

A waiting room in the new mental health clinic at the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio. The Health Care Services Center provides much-needed mental health care on a sliding scale, making mental health care accessible to low-income populations.

Jessica Phelps / Jessica Phelps

Funding areas reflect need. Mental health services will be funded to the tune of $15 million for people aged 12 to 19; $5 million for seniors; and $5 million for people who are not housed, especially veterans, as well as services for children coming out of the foster care system. Another million dollars will be used to establish a collaborative framework and an education campaign.

On ExpressNews.com: Many are struggling with mental health issues amid the pandemic. Here’s how the city will help.

Youth funding, which will target increasing social isolation, anxiety and depression, has the potential to change lives. It is the highest investment. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association have declared children’s mental health a national emergency in 2021.

To better understand the young adult mental health crisis at the local level, Project Worth Teen Ambassadors and the San Antonio Youth Commission developed a Spring Teen Mental Health Survey on the city’s SA Speak Up platform.

San Antonio Youth Ambassador Michael Valdez told Us he was proud of the 34-question survey, particularly because it was “made for young people by young people.” Indeed, it is essential to hear directly from young people about their lived experiences and their needs.

According to results from an adolescent mental health survey released in June, more than 50% of LGBTQ+ youth and 45% of Asian youth reported having suicidal thoughts, compared to 28% of their peers.

The Center for Health Care Services' newest mental health clinic in San Antonio also offers general health checkups for more comprehensive care for its consumers.

The Center for Health Care Services’ newest mental health clinic in San Antonio also offers general health checkups for more comprehensive care for its consumers.

Jessica Phelps / Jessica Phelps

Doug Beach, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Antonio, or NAMI, told the city council that mental health affects one in five people every year — more than 400,000 people in Bexar County.

“People who have experienced their first mental health disorder often wait an average of 10 years to get professional help,” he said. “Helping people before their illness becomes a crisis improves the likelihood that the person will not become homeless, incarcerated, drug addicted, or die 29 years earlier than average.”

The local Bexar County mental health authority, Center for Health Care Services, helped develop the implementation plan. Its president and CEO, Jelynne Jamison, said her agency had seen a 25% increase in calls to crisis services since January and a 20% increase in the number of adults and children seeking help in behavioral health.

“This investment the city is making is welcome and we’re very excited,” Jamison told us.

Jamison pointed to her agency’s newest adult clinic, Eastside Adult Behavioral Health Clinic, as an impressive example of how to provide much-needed wraparound health and mental health services.

Addressing mental health can often be a matter of life and death – the difference our city is trying to make is admirable. The request for proposals for the city’s mental health grant program opened on September 9. Contracts start in January.

District 6 Councilman Melissa Cabello Havrda. who chairs the council’s public safety committee that spearheaded that plan, said $26 million is a significant investment, but it should be just the beginning. She’s right.

We can’t wait to see the difference it makes in the lives of people who need help.

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