AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — When treatment center coordinator Amy Pierce thinks back to her descent into mental illness, she recalls the attempts she made to take her own life. But she also remembers the counseling services that saved her.
Pierce spoke at a rally Thursday at the Texas Capitol, where she and others pushed for more mental health treatment.
"Those services cost money up front, but now I was paying taxes, I was paying back," said Pierce, who works at a treatment center near Austin. "I was learning how to live."
After years of declining financial support for mental health treatment, advocates are hoping recent attention on the issue will lead to improvements in the funding in Texas. Mental health has been gaining more attention in the wake of a rampage that left 20 children and six adults dead at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and other shootings.
Pierce and others argue that more treatment will actually save Texas in the long run by reducing crime, homelessness and unemployment. The Senate Finance Committee accepted a recommendation for the state to add another $195 million to the $2 billion it currently spends for mental health services.
Texas spends $39 per capita on mental health services every year, compared to a national average of $121, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only Idaho spends less.
Sen. John Whitmire, a long-serving Democrat from Houston, said schools could do more than take punitive measures when it comes to disciplining students with mental health issues.
Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican from the suburbs northwest of Houston, said programs need to be in place to help break the cycle of repeated incarceration for individuals with mental health issues.
"The place for someone with a mental health issue is not jail," she said.
About 200 people attended the rally. Some carried signs with slogans like "It's Just FundaMental Health" on them.
"It's the fiscally responsible, cost-effective thing to do," Sharon DeBlanc, leader of the Texas chapter of the advocacy group National Alliance on Mental Illness, said of increasing treatment. "Mental health is an issue whose time has come due to unfortunate events that have placed it at the forefront of our nation's dialogue. Let's don't let the opportunity pass."