Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H.: "In Texas we're trying a new
approach to dealing with mental health and mental illness." Courtesy
of NAMI; photographed by Michael Ciesielski
Government officials in Texas, the state that hosted the 2005 annual
conference of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), are setting
an example for other states by taking steps to eliminate the stigma that
surrounds mental illness.
Part of their focus will be on implementing strategies for preventing
mental illness in those at risk for these disorders.
At the opening plenary session of the NAMI conference in Austin in June,
NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick declared that the organization was"
prepared to do whatever it takes to build an effective family- and
consumer-driven mental health care system in this country." He
introduced Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., commissioner of the Texas Department
of State Health Services.
Sanchez said, "In Texas we're trying a new approach to dealing with
mental health and mental illness, [and] NAMI has played a significant role in
helping to shape that approach."
The Texas Department of State Health Services combines the former Texas
Department of Health, Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Texas Health
Care Information Council, and the mental health component of the Texas
Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
"I truly believe bringing these agencies together is a good thing for
the citizens of Texas," Sanchez declared. "It helps us to confront
stigma resulting from the fact that where treatment is concerned, mental
health problems have long been separated from other medical
Sanchez, who is a family-practice physician, noted that patients must
sometimes simultaneously cope with physical ailments and mental health and
substance abuse problems. "Often, these problems go hand in hand,"
In recognition of this fact, the Texas department is launching an
initiative to screen thousands of adolescents for mental health problems such
as depression and suicidality; the screening will take place in primary care
settings. "The goal is to incorporate adolescent mental health screening
as a part of standard care in every primary care setting in Texas," he
In an effort to combat the stigma associated with mental illness, the Texas
Department of State Health Services has been working with NAMI-Texas to
spotlight a number of business leaders in Texas who have struggled with mental
illness and recovered.
The Web site associated with the antistigma campaign, called "Texans
Working Together," is part of the Elimination of Barriers
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Center for
Mental Health Services launched the Elimination of Barriers Initiative in June
The Web site features pictures of and stories about well-known Texans such
as Philip Burguieres, vice chair of the Houston Texans football team, who has
experienced major depression. According to Sanchez, Burguieres has said,"
It would shock you to know how many individuals running major
corporations are grappling with suicidal depression."
Others featured on the Web site include James Hackett, CEO of Anadarko
Petroleum Company, who discusses the sexual assault of his teenage daughter
and her subsequent experiences with posttraumatic stress disorder. Sanchez
quoted Hackett as saying, "We learned that you can have a very healthy
child, but because of one incident, she can basically be lost to the
Those featured on the site describe many of the lessons they have learned
through their experiences, Sanchez noted. Among them are that having a mental
illness is not a moral failure and that mental illnesses are illnesses of the
brain and require treatment like any other disease.
The department is also working with NAMI-Texas to educate members of the
military returning from Iraq and their families about mental health services
available in the community, Sanchez noted.
"We welcome this new era in which mental health promotion and
recovery from mental illness are realistic expectations for every person and
family in America."
The Web addresses of the Texas Department of State Health Services
and Texans Working Together are, respectively,<www.dshs.state.tx.us>