News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
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.

After Newtown: Mental Health Not Guns, Says Dallas County Group

BJ Austin
John Wiley Price rallies mental health advocates to lobby state legislature for more funding.

A group of Dallas County leaders is calling on state lawmakers to spend more money on mental health. The call comes after years of budget cuts and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is Chairman of the Dallas County Behavioral Health Leadership Team. He says the seven North Texas counties in the Northstar Mental Health care system are seriously shortchanged by state lawmakers.

“The Northstar region serves about 30 percent of all of the mentally ill in the state of Texas, and still we get less than 13 percent of the funding,” Price told a news conference.

He says the funding for mental health care in Dallas, Collin, Denton, Ellis, Navarro, Rockwall and Kaufman counties has been cut in half over the past decade. And Texas is 48th in the nation in spending for mental health. He says Texas spends about $40 per person compared to the $125 per person national average.

The Behavioral Health Leadership Team is urging the Legislature to focus not on gun control as a response to the Newtown shooting and prior tragedies, but on the need for adequate mental health and substance abuse funding.  

Dr. Terry Smith runs the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

“Rather than arming teachers, let’s arm our mental health associations to work with the children up front so we can be proactive so the children don’t end up in the juvenile justice system and then go on into the adult system," Smith said.

Lynn Richardson, chief of the Dallas County public defenders office says she sees a revolving door of mentally ill people who commit crimes, get treatment in jail, then fall through the cracks once they’re released because of inadequate mental health care and end up back in jail. She says statistics show it costs taxpayers 8 to 11 percent more for mental health care in jail than on the outside.

Dallas State Senator Royce West says mental health care funding has always been a priority of his, and never more so than now – after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut at the hands of a young man with mental illness problems.  

“It will be a priority for me during the next legislative session to work with Dallas Count and other counties to make sure that this issue is not swept under the rug, put in some closet to be a dirty secret but is in fact faced by the state of Texas,” the Senator promised.

The 2013 Legislative session convenes next week. 

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.