Celebrating Two Years and Looking Forward

by Coby Chase, Vice President for External Affairs, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute marked the beginning of its third year with a look back at its remarkable trajectory since being founded in 2014. The Institute’s first year solidly established its leadership and team infrastructure, priorities, and reputation as a trusted resource. Its second year concentrated on statewide policy work, community engagement projects, and the launch of Okay to Say™  – a grassroots movement to talk openly about mental illness and eliminate barriers that stand in the way of people getting care for a treatable disease.

84th Texas Legislature Highlights

From January 2015 through May 2015, MMHPI found itself substantially engaged in the Texas legislative process on a number of fronts. CEO Tom Luce’s appointment by Speaker Straus to the Sunset Advisory Commission placed the Institute directly into legislative work while the state’s health and human services agencies were under review. Broad positive reform was brought to the agencies and to behavioral health in particular.

Observers agree that there was a heightened level of discourse surrounding behavioral health this legislative session. Partly attributed to Sunset but also because advocates, institutions, and legislative leaders better understood the fiscal and societal benefits of a modern behavioral health system.

To see the full array of key legislation that was signed into law and a deeper review of the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature, visit the MMHPI blog.

Two important interim activities emerged following the session. Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) are leading the House Select Committee on Mental Health created by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). The Senate Finance Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), is monitoring the new Texas Statewide Behavioral Health Plan it required multiple state agencies to create.

Statewide Community Engagement Highlights

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is a resource for any Texas community, county, or region interested in facilitating local systems change around its mental health services. The Institute provides technical expertise in behavioral health care and system analysis, as well as guidance to assist diverse stakeholder groups align goals and address challenges specific to their community.

By the end of 2015, the Institute was working with local partners in: Houston/Harris County, San Antonio/Bexar County, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth/Tarrant County, El Paso, Denton County, Tyler/Smith County, Midland, Amarillo, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur, and the Rio Grande Valley. Projects have spanned a wide range of activities including: detailed analysis of needs and available services, evaluation of existing mental and primary healthcare systems for integrated services, analysis of criminal justice systems to improve mental health assessments or establish mental health courts, the development of a behavioral health workforce initiative, and the creation of local Behavioral Health Leadership Teams.

Okay to Say™ Movement Highlights

From the latter half of 2015, the Institute began planning for the 2016 launch of Okay to Say. The initiative is a community-based movement to dispel the stereotypes surrounding mental illness by making it okay for people to talk openly about their experience just as they would with any physical illness. In the process, the initiative aims to increase public awareness that mental illness is treatable, and to encourage people with mental illness to seek the support and help they need and deserve.

Combining the excitement of celebrity testimonials and the dynamics of social media exchange, the hub of the movement is the okaytosay.org website. There, individuals can join the movement with options to add their name to the support wall, share an experience, or leave a message of support. A section also lists partner organizations and supporters for people to find more information and treatment resources. Within hours of its launch, Okay to Say gained national media attention and the movement continues to grow in social media.

Other Milestones

Within this dynamic year, the Institute also strengthened its infrastructure. It welcomed experts in the fields of veterans’ affairs, children’s mental health, and criminal justice to the team, named its first mental health policy fellows, launched a summer internship program for undergraduate and graduate students, opened satellite operations in Austin and Houston, and transitioned its leadership.

On January 1, 2016, Andrew Keller, PhD, assumed his appointment as Chief Executive Officer. Founding CEO Tom Luce continues to serve on the Institute’s board. Under Dr. Keller’s leadership, the Institute is well positioned to support state decision makers, to expand community engagements to improve the quality and delivery of localized treatment, and to establish Texas as a national leader in the best practices of mental health care.