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Rural mental health in West Texas has challenges to overcome

Texas Health and Human Services started a rural mental health initiative last year. While meeting with mental health centers, they revealed obstacles to overcome.

MIDLAND, Texas — As mental health awareness month gets underway, the State of Texas is working on improving mental health in rural areas. 

Texas Health and Human Services, or THHS, started their rural mental health initiative last September, and their work meeting with mental health centers has established some realities in West Texas

The impact their initiative has had so far really ranges from challenges to different stakeholders involved. 

“I think that’s what’s really made the big difference is that we’re able to affect change on a systemic level that eventually will affect the local level," said Robert Dole, Deputy Associate Commissioner for Rural Mental Health at THHS. 

As THHS continues mental health efforts in rural communities, their focus began with getting local perspectives to identify gaps and challenges. 

In West Texas, broadband, transportation, and housing are several to overcome, along with the workforce. 

“The local mental health authorities are looking at other ways that they can hire and retain an adequate workforce, and part of that is getting creative by looking at using certified peer specialists to engage with people," said Dole. "These are people who are trained and certified to provide recovery services, and they’re people with lived experience in recovery from a mental health condition.” 

PermiaCare in Midland helped identify strategies for another key factor in the region – criminal justice diversion. 

"Diverting people with a mental health condition away from criminal justice settings is a big priority for all the centers we work with out there, and all of them are doing incredible work around keeping people out of jail and into recovery," said Dole. 

Those in need of assistance are seeing the distance issues in rural areas cut down. 

“Now the law enforcement can meet directly with the clinician via tele-video and have the person screened to determine the best place for that person to be taken," said Dole. 

With May being mental health awareness month, Dole believes the topic is essential in today's society. 

"I think that the reality is people are really struggling and suffering, and they need to know that help is available and that they can recover and that they can build a life worth living," said Dole. "Mental health is more than just seeing a psychiatrist or seeing a therapist. It’s about having a sense of well-being, a sense of purpose and a sense of direction in one’s life.” 

Dole also mentioned that people are more comfortable talking about mental health now than ever before, which is important in rural communities where the stigma is so profound. THHS  is also assisting West Texas Centers in Big Spring with creating a diversion center for law enforcement to bring people with mental health conditions in for screenings. 

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