Texas News
2:11 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Forum Calls For Mental Illness Education, School Screening And More Money

Experts on mental illness did some myth-busting at last night’s public forum at the Dallas Performance Hall. The panelists were part of the discussion “Erasing the Stigma: Mental Illness and the Search for Solutions. 

The experts also called for mental health screening in schools and more money from the State Legislature. 

The forum’s mission was to spark a broad public discussion about erasing the stigma of mental illness, and finding solutions to early diagnosis and comprehensive treatment. 

Dr. Preston Wiles, UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrist on the panel of experts sought to demystify schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression. 

“These are brain disorders.  They’re illnesses," he told the large crowd in the Performance Hall. "They’re just like medical illnesses like hypertension or diabetes. And there are medical, biological treatments for them.”

Dr. Wiles says getting the facts out about mental illness could go a long way toward erasing the stigma and fear created by the recent mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado and Connecticut.

“The most important message is that these people all were under treated, untreated people with serious mental illness," the doctor noted. "And that most people with mental illness are not violent. And most of the violent crime in America is not committed by people with mental illness.”

Panelist Vanita Halliburton called for mental illness screening in schools. Her teenage son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2005 he committed suicide. She says there are simple but scientifically-based screening questions schools can use. But screening takes parental permission and that can be a problem.

“So many parents refuse to allow their children to be screened for mental health," Halliburton said. "Talk about erasing the stigma. That stigma is so deeply embedded in our society and parents are often the barrier to a young person getting help.”

The panel of experts agreed that more funding is critical to increase the availability of treatment. Matt Roberts is president of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas. He says Texas is 49th in funding for mental health care.

“And then our area tends to be at the bottom of that list. So, we’re at the bottom of the bottom. And in fact, Denton County has the dubious distinction of being at the literal bottom per capita funding in Texas," Roberts explained.

State Representative Garnet Coleman urged attendees to call their state lawmakers asking them to restore $200 million cut from mental health in 2003. He says it’s not enough, but it would be a start.

More community outpatient services and more pressure on lawmakers are results forum attendees Amy Hamaker and Jamon Abanaka would like to see.

“We need continuing levels of care through intensive outpatient programs to lower the relapse rate and increase the recovery rate," Hamaker said.

“Talk to representatives and go back to the communities and get to work,” an energized Abanaka said. 

Listen to the KERA Radio story