House Select Committee Releases Interim Report on Mental Health

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people with mental health disorders are more likely to experience an alcohol or substance abuse disorder. SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 7.9 million adults in the United States have co-occurring disorders, which are defined as the coexistence of both a mental health and substance use disorder. This number highlights how important it is for prevention specialists, parents or guardians, and our state representatives to address the relationship between mental health and alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.

SAMHSA’s finding on the prevalence of co-occurring disorders is one of several reasons Texans Standing Tall waited with bated breath for the House Select Committee on Mental Health to present its Interim Report. In November of 2015, Texas Speaker of the House, Joe Strauss, appointed the Committee in to study all aspects of mental health in Texas, including co-occurring substance use issues, during the 84th Interim Session. Throughout 2016, the Committee met to identify barriers and existing gaps in the mental health treatment of children and adults.

The Committee’s report makes recommendations on virtually every aspect of mental health and specifically addresses early intervention and prevention in youth. The report found:

  • Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions will develop by age 24.
  • Approximately 50% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a need for mental health treatment.
  • Approximately 80% of state committed youth have an addiction to alcohol or drugs.

The report also provides information on suicide rates in Texas, pointing out that 90 percent of people who die by suicide experience mental illness and one in three people who commit suicide are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In fact, suicide continually ranks as the second or third leading cause of death of persons between the ages of 15 and 34 years old, and research shows that the availability of alcohol at home may contribute to suicide risk in adolescents. Knowing that suicide is one of the most devastating consequences associated with alcohol use and that suicide rates in Texas are increasing, it is very more important to invest in prevention and treatment measures that will help keep all of our youth safe and healthy.

With the start of the 85th Legislature on January 10, the eyes of Texas are on the state budget. A balanced budget is the only piece of legislation the state is required to pass each session. Given the 2.7% budget decrease already announced by the State Comptroller, our representatives will likely spend a lot of time looking for ways to trim the budget over the next several months. However, a major recommendation from the House Select Committee on Mental Health’s report is for the state to provide funding for services for individuals with mental health disorders. With that in mind, legislators may want to consider ways to increase state revenue rather than cutting mental health and other prevention services.

TST’s The Effects of Alcohol Excise Tax Increase on Public Health and Safety in Texas shows that just a dime per alcoholic drink can generate an additional $708 million annually for Texas. These additional funds could be used to pay for the types of services the Interim Report recommends. Additionally, a dime a drink increase has the power to save lives. TST’s report also shows that a dime a drink increase would result in 402 fewer deaths per year in our state, including 57 fewer alcohol-related suicides.

Thanks to a grant awarded to Texans Standing Tall in 2016, we were able to hire a Peer Policy Fellow to further explore how TST’s prevention work intersects with a number of critical mental health issues. Since August, our Fellow, Dr. Sachin Kamble, has been studying co-occurring disorders and examining the ways a dime a drink alcohol excise tax increase could be used to support prevention and mental health program needs. He has also been busy building relationships in the prevention, treatment, and mental health communities so that we can all work together to create safe and healthy communities for every Texan.

For more information about the positive health and safety benefits of raising alcohol excise taxes, visit TexansStandingTall.org to read the full report.

Prevent Risky Behavior This Holiday Season

As finals put a bow on the fall semester, high school and college students are beginning to make plans to get together for parties or reunions as friends gather back home. With time on their hands and a festive season, there are many opportunities for the dangers of alcohol use to jingle all the way into their young lives. Along with the holiday gatherings comes the frightful increase of alcohol-fueled risky behavior like unwanted or unplanned sex, fights including alcohol-related car crashes. With the semester ending, now is an extremely important time to discuss the dangers of drinking and driving with the youth in your life.

Many parents believe allowing their children and their children’s friends to consume alcohol under their roof encourages healthier attitudes toward alcohol, but in truth, alcohol consumption by underage youth increases the risks of unwanted or unplanned sex, fights, homicides, and suicides. Parents also believe that taking the keys away from youth will prevent them from drinking and driving, but they may not be aware that youth are more likely to binge drink outside of the home when parents allow alcohol consumption in the home. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drivers ages 16-20 are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash when they have a high blood alcohol concentration compared to when they have not been drinking. The CDC also reports that the chances for alcohol abuse increases when people begin drinking in their teenage years and The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reports that 90 percent of addictions begin in the teenage years.

Modeling good decision-making with alcohol is an effective approach to preventing your teens from making risky choices. Parents should also consider a “rules of the road” contract with their youth. Studies show that the children of parents who establish and enforce rules around alcohol make positive decisions when it comes to drinking and driving.

A good way to lead any conversation with youth is to remind them of the Zero Tolerance Laws in Texas, which makes it illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21. It does not matter if the substance is provided by a friend’s parent, it is still illegal in the state of Texas.

Texans Standing Tall is a resource for coalitions and communities across the state working to address youth social access to alcohol. A long-term, community-based solution that TST educates about and promotes is a strategy called a civil social host ordinance. A civil social host ordinance is a city ordinance that holds people accountable for providing the location for underage drinking parties. Our partners at Circles of San Antonio are working toward a healthier and safer community through a social host ordinance. The city of El Paso recently passed such an ordinance. We are hoping to see many more around our state.

If you are interested in learning more about how a civil social host ordinance works:

  • visit our website
  • contact TST’s Strategy Specialist Brian Lemons
  • contact Community Mobilization Coordinator Libby Banks.