The life cycle of a crisis is as follows: facts – media – CRISIS – hand-wringing – government handouts – facts.
We have a full-blown mental health crisis. The media has proclaimed it. The crisis is currently at the hand-wringing stage and moving quickly to government handouts. You can track the increase in handouts by the number of related acronyms. For example, in an October 18, 2022, press release announcing the award of millions of dollars, the government managed to use HHS, SAMHSA, BSCA, and CCBHC in the introductory sentence alone.
Not that government handouts will solve the mental health crisis. Money and good intentions cannot cure mental illness.
When the Kennedy administration implemented the Community Mental Health Act in 1963, one effect was to release patients who suffered from serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder from state hospitals into the general population. No one doubts that everyone involved had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, the procedures in place did not properly address treatment for the released patients.
We have been dealing with the unintended consequences ever since.
Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health
In 2018, Texas, which has its fair share of people suffering from mental illness, created the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health. It is known as the JCMH and is chaired by justices from the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The purpose was to improve the justice system for those affected by mental health challenges, including both mentally ill people and those whose lives they adversely impact.
One immediate result was the creation of pilot programs for Denton, Grayson and Smith counties to install a community diversion coordinator to help judges and attorneys navigate alternatives to jail for people suffering from mental illness. At least 14 counties have a mental health diversion program designed specifically to help participants develop and follow an individualized treatment plan.
JCMH has developed numerous publications intended to guide and aid judges and attorneys. Much of its work, including the publications, is available for free on its website. If you want to take a deep dive into the Texas law on mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities, and gain insight into tools available to attorneys and judges, then look at its Bench Book. The bench book covers early identification, assessment, diversion, civil commitment, incompetency to stand trial, the insanity defense, post-conviction procedures and re-entry into the community from custody. There is a separate bench book that addresses the law related to juveniles.
A more succinct, if less titillating, summary of laws is contained in the JCMH publication Texas Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities: Selected Statutes and Rules. A quick perusal will convince you that the law is both confusing and messy.
Help is on the way. The JCMH has a Legislative Research Committee that was effective in the Texas 87th Legislature, and has even bigger plans for the 88th Legislature.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to trudge through available mental health materials. For a more friendly read that is geared toward the public, there are several interesting guides and resources regarding mental health that are readily available from Texas Health and Human Services. One of these is the Texas Mental Health Resource Guide, which lists resources and services by type in each Texas county.
We have come a long way from labeling a person with a mental health or psychiatric disability as insane, crazy, psycho, maniac or nuts. Now all we need is for our courts and available resources to catch up.
Hammerle Finley Can Help
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Attorney Virginia Hammerle has practiced litigation and estate planning for 40 years. She is founder and managing attorney for Hammerle Finley Law Firm, hammerle.com. Contact her at legaltalktexas.com for comments and to subscribe to her newsletter.