The Uwalde massacre has sparked calls for expanding mental health resources

A senior Texas public health official on Wednesday called on state lawmakers to expand mental health resources across the state to address the shortage of workers in the area and increase student access to online counseling services.

The recommendations from Dr. David Lakey, chairman of the state consortium for children’s mental health set up in response to the Santa Fe high school massacre in 2019, came during the second day of hearings before a new Senate committee discussing legislative responses last month. school shooting in Uwalde.

Senators discussed law enforcement response to Tuesday’s shooting, making national headlines as Texas Public Safety Director Steve McCrow testified that on-site police could have confronted the shooter just three minutes after Rob entered elementary school. but they didn’t.

Wednesday’s hearing focused on the mental health and safety of firearms, but the former dominated early testimony. Republican leaders in Texas have focused on mental health services after the shooting in Uwalde, which killed 19 children and two teachers, while rejecting calls from the left to restrict access to weapons.

The shooter from Uwalde is an 18-year-old dropout from high school who shows signs of violence that have never been reported to authorities, government officials said. People interviewed after the massacre described him as a suicide and cruel to animals, McCrow said.

Lakey, who also serves as chief medical officer of The University of Texas System, has proposed a set of potential solutions the legislature could make to expand mental health resources across the state. The proposals focus mainly on labor shortages, including proposed incentives for graduates to work in mental health and more paid traineeships.

He also proposed expanding broadband access in rural areas to increase the availability of telehealth resources and work more closely with schools to provide services on site.

“If we do not have a workforce to provide counseling services to our children in schools, we will not be able to identify problems early, provide them with the necessary counseling, the services they need to get on the path they need.” he said. “So this may be a slightly longer-term strategy for the mental health system, but I think it’s essential if we want to be able to meet the needs that children have in Texas.

However, there is little evidence that mental illness causes mass shootings or that people diagnosed with it are more likely to commit violent crimes. Activists also fear that accusations of mental illness could condemn a wide range of people living with psychological disorders.

“The more we can make this thing safe to discuss and not be stigmatized, then we will really make the biggest change there,” said Laurel Williams, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine who testified with Lakey. “Walking down the hall and going to a mental health provider should not be seen as something that means you are a bad person or doing something bad. It really just means that you realize that you have the power to tell someone that you need help. “

The consortium manages TCHATT – Texas Children’s Health Access through Telemedicine – which provides virtual services to public school students in need of mental health treatment. Texas currently spends $ 25 million a year to provide these resources to about 40 percent of students, and House Speaker Dade Phelan has offered to invest another $ 37.5 million each year to expand services across the state.

Schools in Uwalde were not involved in the program when the shooting took place. It is also unlikely that the gunman qualified for the services due to his absence, officials said.

In any case, the data from the consortium show that few students are targeted by TCHATT to harm others. About 41 percent are focused on anxiety and another 34 percent on depression, while 17 percent are at risk of suicide and 14 percent are self-harmed.

None is aimed at harming others between October 2021 and May 2022, according to the center.

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