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.