On May 1, Mental Health America announced the start of its May 2020 Mental Health Month campaign, with an emphasis on delivering “Tools 2 Thrive” to address the mental health needs of everyone. Soon after, Mayor Connie Schroeder and County Judge Paul Pape declared May 2020 Mental Health Awareness Month through proclamations.
Both the mayor and county judge have been supportive, helping all residents throughout the year via various projects that enhance the quality of life. All of us would agree that mental health is an important aspect of our lives, especially considering our current challenges due to COVID-19.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 19% of adults have a defined mental illness and at least 4.5% of adults have a severe mental illness. At any given time, this currently translates to 12,600 Bastrop County adult residents with a mental illness and 3,000 adult residents with a severe mental illness. NIMH estimates that only 43% of adults with a defined mental illness received treatment.
Regarding youth (13-18), an estimated 49.5% of adolescents have a mental disorder. Of those adolescents, an estimated 22.2% have severe impairment. At any given time, this currently translates to 4,000 adolescents with a mental disorder In Bastrop County, and of those, 900 adolescents will have severe impairment. Mental health issues become even more significant at the local and county level.
Every year Ascension Seton Health Care System conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment for the East Region: Bastrop, Gonzalez, Lee and Fayette counties. Here are some key points from the May 2019 assessment:
• With its suburban population, Bastrop County is somewhat younger in age than the East Region overall,
• Bastrop County has a more diverse racial and ethnic makeup than the three rural counties,
• The uninsured rate for children is 13.6% in Bastrop County, which is considerably higher than the state average of 10% and the national average of 5%, and
• The Bastrop County suicide rate is rising and is greater than the state rate.
I took a look at some data and Bastrop County had an average of 14 suicides per year from 2012 to 2016. I believe the current figure is much higher but could not find more current data. Nevertheless, that is at least one a month.
The report also stated: “One of the most consistent concerns raised during the focus groups and interviews was the need to improve access to mental health services in the East Region, including Bastrop County. Most key informants stated that mental health services are a vital concern in the rural communities. Focus group members and key informants stated that it can take many months to secure an appointment with a psychiatrist or mental health provider.”
“The data clearly corroborate the concerns of the community, especially in terms of provider availability. At 53.2 providers per 100,000 residents, Bastrop County is almost half the state average of 98.8 and seven times worse than the national rate of 370.4 per 100,000 residents,” the report said.
“Community members also expressed concern about several recent youth suicides and the opioid epidemic. Both the focus groups and stakeholder interviews identified improving access to health care as a key community priority. Top concerns included expanding access to mental health care (including substance abuse and youth services), women’s health services (including prenatal care) and dental care. Overall, community members acknowledged the availability of many health care services in the region, but noted significant barriers to access, including, but not limited to: long wait times for appointments, limited clinic hours, local providers not accepting new patients or forms of payment like Medicare or Medicaid, the location of healthcare services/clinics, difficulty finding transportation to appointments and fear of deportation,” it said.
I regret having to provide a rather gloomy picture but feel your awareness has increased on the subject of mental illness at the local level. Bastrop County Cares has recently made efforts to address mental health issues. Bastrop County Cares “is a county-wide partnership of public, private, faith-based and nonprofit organizations, institutions and individuals which collaboratively identifies and strengthens the social, health, educational and economic opportunities in Bastrop County,” according to its website. I would urge anyone interested in the health of our residents and community to look at the organization’s website at https://www.bastropcares.org/.
I also wish to offer some guidance on mental health that could help you find out more and provide assistance to help yourself, or others. Mental health impacts all of us even when we personally may not currently have an issue. I urge you to check out Mental Health America’s website at https://mhanational.org/, including the wonderful resources in the site’s “Live Mentally Healthy” and “Find Help” tabs. In the near future, I plan to write about other local mental health related issues, such a substance abuse and crime.
Herb Goldsmith lives in Bastrop and is a family and youth counselor.