Professional News
Texas Health Official Explains Effort To End Mental Illness Stigma
Psychiatric News
Volume 40 Number 15 page 4-42
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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 problems."

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," he said.

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 said.

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 Initiative.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Center for Mental Health Services launched the Elimination of Barriers Initiative in June 2003.

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 world."

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> and<www.texansworkingtogether.org>.

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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

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