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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Mental Health Care: Better Understanding, More Funding

Mental health care has become a topic of discussion after last week’s school shootings. Two North Texans working in the field are calling for a new attitude and more money.

Sherry Cusumano, president of the Dallas chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness wants to see mental health treated with the same seriousness as heart disease or diabetes. 

“With the economy being the focus of most of our discussions and concerns recently, everybody looks at the cost of things and it stops there," Cusumano said. "And in some ways, we’ve gotten penny wise and pound foolish.  The cost is greater down the road.

Especially when it ends in an outburst that takes lives, says Cusumano. She says in this and other mass shootings, there were warning signs along the way that were not heeded. She says people need a place to go to get help.  

“We need to have clearly demarcated places where people can go with situations where they’re very concerned that someone’s getting out of control and get that evaluated,” Cusumano suggested.   

She says that would take state or federal money. And, Texas is 50th among states in mental health funding.

Dr. Judith Hunter directs Metrocare, which provides public mental healthcare in Dallas County.  She welcomes a national discussion. She says the last one was led by Tipper Gore about 20 years ago.

“One of my hopes is that tragedies such as this do spark conversation and debate and perhaps legislation to expand care to the people who need it," she says. "One of my fears is further criminalization of people with mental illness.”

She says prisons are the largest mental health facilities in the U.S.  Hunter does not want to see fear lead us to enforcement against the mentally ill instead of treatment for them.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.