Mental health lacking in East Texas, 23-county study finds
Jimmy Daniell Isaac
Sept. 12, 2017 at 12:41 a.m.
Evidenced by elevated rates of depression and suicide, Northeast Texas residents generally have poorer mental health than elsewhere in the state, new research has found. A lack of treatment facilities is among the reasons.
"There is a need for more regional detox and mental health facilities, as waiting lists are so long that people feel discouraged and turned away due to long wait and entry times," researchers said in a summary of their findings.
One result, according to the data, is an elevated rate of suicide in the 23-county Northeast Texas area studied. At 16.09 deaths per 100,000 residents, the region's age-adjusted suicide mortality rate is nearly five points higher than the statewide rate of 11.15 per 100,000. No county in the region had a rate below the state rate, according to the report, with Morris, Van Zandt and Anderson counties at rates nearly double the state rate.
The study also found Gregg County ranked high for the rate of patients seeking psychiatric medical care, at 6.4 per 100,000 residents.
The statewide rate is 4.5 patients per 100,000 residents and the U.S. rate is 4.8 patients. The average rate in Northeast Texas is 4.4.
The 2017 Regional Needs Assessment for Northeast Texas was created by the Prevention Resource Center for the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The findings reflect the region's poor mental health mainly because of a lack of treatment capacity, Dr. Stanley Williams said after viewing the assessment last week. The managing director at Community HealthCore in Longview since 2014, Williams said area agencies are finding ways to work together for new solutions.
"We have to have a collaborative approach to work on these unmet needs," he said.
The assessment delved into issues beyond mental health, as well.
Researchers discovered a "very high mortality rate" in the region because of major chronic disease with cancer, lung disease and heart disease topping the list as "very disproportionately high."
They also found one-fourth of children in the 23-county area, which is known as Region 4, live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line, that the region reports high use of prescription drug use among school-age children and its motor vehicle crash rate continues to be substantially high, especially in the eastern counties.
"These counties border the gambling and alcohol-related attractions across the Texas border into Shreveport, and the alcohol-involved consequences are evident," researchers wrote of their findings.
Data in the assessment reveal a significant desire for mental health services in Gregg County — and provided a look at how well they're provided compared to surrounding counties.
Gregg County has 118 health providers for every 100,000 residents, the study found. That was nearly double the region's 61-providers-per-100,000 rate. It also dwarfs rates in Rusk, Upshur, Harrison, Panola and Marion counties, which ranged from 32 to eight providers per 100,000 residents.
However, Gregg County also had the highest rate of calls from clients seeking mental health or substance abuse services.
Public, private and law enforcement agencies are collaborating more than ever to find better ways of meeting local mental health needs and incidents, Williams said. He mentioned recent partnership between Community HealthCore and the Longview Police Department to create a crisis intervention training program for peace officers as an example.
"Officers will be able to look at signs and symptoms of a person and realize that it's more of a mental health issue and can triage them to a mental health provider," Williams said. "It's kind of amazing that they would want to do that. That's an example of working together."
Both Longview hospitals, emergency medical service agencies and police also are meeting monthly to build a physical health foundation to address other challenges, Williams said.
"The challenge for us is not to always look at a government program to pay for something, but our focus should be what are our natural supports to strengthen families and communities," he said. "We may have the resources already within our community."