Consumers help guide leadership team (Denton Record-Chronicle)

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As published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, Sept. 25, 2015

The Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team has formed a group of mental health care consumers to guide team planners in assessing needs.

Team member and Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell urged the strategic planning work group to contact mental health consumers as part of assessment.

She said no strategic plan would be complete without input from those who use the services.

“It’s easy for us to tell people what they need and how they need it,” said Mitchell, who is on the strategic planning work group. “But if you tell me you’re going to help me, I need to tell you what I need.”

Mitchell said the work group was gathering data and discussing how the county delivers mental health services to consumers. The behavioral health team is a quasi-government group that will work to improve access to mental health services and the quality of care.

“You have to talk to people to find out exactly what they need,” Mitchell said. “I personally think that some of the things we think they need, they might not need. I think they’ll be able to give us a better picture.”

Mitchell said the “system users” of mental health services will probably meet with the strategic planning work group just a few times, rather than acting as an ongoing group.

During the last team meeting, United Way Community Impact director Lacrica Olson told the team the response of the consumers was enthusiastic. They were ready and willing to talk about their experiences with county mental health services, she said.

Until recently, Denton County had the lowest per-capita funding for mental health services in Texas, and the Lone Star state was near the bottom in funding in the nation. The United Way of Denton County published a local mental health needs assessment in 2013, and updated it in 2014 to reflect a small spike in funding for mental health services.

The leadership team faces a challenge. The agency’s assessment found that about 77,000 county residents likely have mental illness, with roughly 13,400 of those being adults with severe mental illness. The Denton County MHMR has the capacity to serve about 13 percent of them.

Services for children are even skimpier. An estimated 4,976 Denton County children have a severe mental illness, and Denton County MHMR has the capacity to serve about 8 percent of them.

The behavioral health team adopted a charter and bylaws in August. Team members hail from municipal government, health care and educational sectors.

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.