Texas is taking mental health care seriously.
Last month, Kevin Banks took a seat in front of the Texas House of Representatives Mental Health Select committee.
He was one of almost 30 witnesses, all there to give personal testimony about how mental illness has affected their lives.
Banks told the representatives about his struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the frustrations with insurance coverage for his treatment and his belief in a better system.
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In a shaky voice, the recent University of Houston graduate said, “I missed out on some important milestones in my life … years that I would very much like to have back.”
He is one of the luckier ones. He even said it himself, talking about his recent achievement of a bachelor’s degree, aspirations for grad school and his supportive family.
But he finished with his testimony with a plea.
“Campaign for people like me,” he said. “Maybe above all, pray for us.”
The Mental Health Select committee has been meeting since the beginning of the year, taking on the Herculean task of bettering Texas mental health care.
Organizations have lined up to suggest improvements and underline concerns while the committee listened, asked questions and will ultimately make recommendations for the legislative session that begins in January.
In each meeting, the committee has focused on one area of mental health reform. So far, the members have listened to experts weigh in on adolescent mental health, crisis intervention, access to care, the criminal justice system, health insurance coverage, veterans, homelessness and other topics.
The last meeting, on Aug. 17, was the first time they heard public testimony. That from Banks was just one brave story.
The committee members, lead by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, not only have listened to organizations and individuals who sat in front of them, but also asked insightful questions.
Price and the committee started these meetings with a baseline and determined to go from there. He originally wanted to hold up to four additional meetings. So far, there have been seven, with one more possibly this month.
“What I am really struck by is the level of interest out there in the work this committee is going to do and a real desire to see the Legislature tackle this issue in a meaningful way.” Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said during the first meeting back in February.
They wanted to make sure Texans understand this committee is meant to lead to some change for the better in the frustrating mental health care system.
Eight months later, the committee has been doing enough trench work to convert even the staunchest skeptic.
Mental health reform might actually happen because of this diligent committee.
“The reality is, I don’t know everything about this. I want to learn, too. Because things change,” Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said in one meeting. “I’m ready to work.”
That work can improve lives.