More funding for mental health services needed, experts say

Keldy  Ortiz

Dec. 29, 2012 at 6:29 a.m.
Updated Dec. 30, 2012 at 6:30 a.m.

Tuesday Marler

Tuesday Marler   Keldy Ortiz for The Victoria Advocate

Tuesday Marler came to Victoria earlier in December on a mission - to help her family.

Her family happens to be people with mental health problems.

Marler, a regional peer support coordinator with East Texas Behavioral Healthcare Network, has had a mental health illness. She now works with directors of regional mental health facilities in the South Texas area, including Gulf Bend Center, a community mental health facility in Victoria.

Her role doesn't go without its difficulties. One of them is funding.

"We're really trying to help people with the resources we have," said Marler. "The government has cut so much in that people are not able to get help."

In recent weeks after the school shooting in Connecticut, most of the national dialogue focused on gun control and the availability of mental health services.

Crossroads experts say that because of the lack of funding, Texas cannot provide the necessary services for mental health patients. They say mental health has not been a central concern compared to other health-related issues.

"We've done everything we can locally to take an approach in terms of behavioral health," said Don Polzin, executive director at the Gulf Bend Center, where he's worked for 32 years. "It's going to take time in Victoria and broadly (across the country) to address those issues."

Polzin explained that mental health has been brought to the forefront of the conversation because of what happened in Connecticut. Some of the talk, however, has been generalization.

"When things like this happen, (people) tend to stereotype," Polzin said. "We would be wrong to categorize."

However, he said, the conversation about mental health can lead to awareness of available services.

"There are mental health services in the community, but when you ask people about where they can get services, they say they don't know. I think that by becoming aware, people have a tendency to become supportive," Polzin said. "It's a steep hill, but we've got to climb it."

He said he remains optimistic about the future of mental health in the region.

In November, Gulf Bend Center and the Victoria school district collaborated to provide mental health services on its campuses. Teachers and school personnel will also be trained to identify students who need mental health services.

Dr. Robert Lyman, one of the few psychiatrists in Victoria, said people need to look more closely at mental health issues.

"There are big problems in substance abuse," he said. "The way I see it ... people have trouble accessing services."

Marler's role in Victoria is to help mental health patients in the area and to help tear down stereotypes associated with mental health.

She is a former mental health patient diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsion disorder.

Marler oversees programs that mental health patients use to talk about their own experiences.

"Even though I'm diagnosed, I'm able to help people," Marler said.

King Davis, director of Institute for Urban Policy Research at University of Texas-Austin, said he hopes the conversation about mental health will seep into every part of the state.

In rural parts, Davis said, services for mental health can be hard to find.

"Texas doesn't have many mental health professionals," he said. "The state may have to consider how do they provide service to these rural parts of the area."

Davis explained that based on size and area of towns, 25 percent of a population can have mental health issues. Based on Victoria's size, Davis said that about 17,000 people may need to be treated. Gulf Bend Center treats about 4,000 people a year.

"It's a challenge for the state," he said. "But it doesn't mean Texas has to be behind."



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