13 Investigates: Texas at bottom of national rankings for mental health treatment

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In his first comments in response to the deadly weekend shooting in El Paso, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott focused on improving mental health care statewide.

Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Abbott told reporters, "I can tell you that perhaps the most profound and agreed upon issue that came out of all of those hearings (after the Santa Fe school shooting) was the need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health-based issues."

A check on the Texas record, using data from Mental Health America, shows the state is not improving access to mental health care since Abbott took office in 2015.

The national study released every year suggests Texas ranks 43rd out of 51 states (including Washington, D.C.) in 2019 in the need for mental health care and access to it.

In 2015, the state ranked 36th.

Dr. Neal Sarahan, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Houston, tells ABC13 Investigates the state "is making significant investments in mental health," but it is not enough and it "leaves us far behind in adequately meeting the needs and safety of our citizens."

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There are more mentally ill Texans without access to insurance coverage than in any other state in America.

Mental Health America's study shows a third of all mentally ill Texans go without treatment due to cost.

Texas ranks last, 51st, when it comes to mentally ill patients without health insurance.

When Abbott took office in 2015, Mental Health America said Texas ranked just 39th in uninsured mentally ill patients.

Despite the rankings, Renae Vania Tomczak, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston, told ABC13 Investigates she, "sees an encouraging trend of increased awareness and investment from our state and local elected officials to improve access to mental health care. For example, an overwhelming majority of legislators on both sides of the aisle voted to pass bills in this last session that will promote prevention and early intervention for children's mental health in Texas."

In 2019, the Texas legislature passed and Abbott signed several bills related to mental health. In the wake of the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School, many of the new laws center around prevention and early intervention in Texas schools.

Both Vania Tomczak and Sarahan emphasized the importance of early intervention in the treatment of mental illness.

"Mental illness, like all illnesses, is best treated early. More resources and access in primary care settings will pay many dividends in the future health of our citizenry," Sarahan said.

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