It was a full house at the San Marcos Activity Center as local school board members, mental health professionals, mental health officers, nonprofit representatives, elected officials and residents came together to establish a coalition in order to identify problems in local mental healthcare and gaps in access to resources.
“I appreciate everyone showing up in the spirit of collaboration,” said Anne Halsey, member of the San Marcos Commission on Children and Youth and a San Marcos CISD at-large trustee. “I believe that when we convene at a table together and figure out what we’re each doing and what we’re each interested in and how we can better work together that we will provide a stronger network for the kids in this community.”
The coalition formed five subcommittees—one to establish the coalition’s mission, goals and best practices; one to focus on local mental health data collection and tracking; a committee to identify existing and potential prevention and treatment services; a community awareness committee; and a committee in which members will focus on grant writing to secure funding for mental health resources.
At the end of the meeting, all of the attendees signed up for the committees they wanted to serve on. Each committee will meet in January and the Coalition of Mental Health will begin to host meetings on a quarterly basis in 2019.
“I would love to see this coalition take on that work of really honing in on what’s available, what’s not available, what services exist, what services we can all work together to better support and expand,” Halsey said.
According to Texas Department of State Health Services, or TDSHS, suicide is the second leading cause of death in Texas for children aged 10-14. The TDSHS also states that there were 36 reports of children aged 10-14 who died by suicide in 2016 and 218 teens aged 15-19 who died by suicide in the same year.
According to a national CDC survey, 1 in 8 students said they attempted suicide in 2017.
Kara Yocom, a San Marcos mother who lost her 14-year-old son to suicide in 2015 after he was bullied for a year, stressed the importance of the coalition reaching out to children and having frank discussions about suicide. Yocom created the Isaac Foundation to expand local suicide-prevention efforts.
“I go to homes with parents who have suicidal kids and I talk to them,” Yocom said. “And from what I’ve learned since I’ve lost my son is they need [to put] a face to suicide. They need somebody that will talk to them and say, ‘Look I lost my son. This is what I go through every day. Do you want your mom to go through this every day?’ And every single one started crying and reached out for help and a couple of them got admitted into the hospital because they didn’t want to put their parents through that.”
Members of the coalition had an open discussion at the launch meeting about the importance of a diverse set of people and professionals teaming up to amplify already available local mental health resources and to identify unmet needs and work toward a solution.
Resident and mother Claudia Nava said a child in her family tried and failed to commit suicide three weeks ago. She said after almost losing a loved one to suicide, she strongly believes that as the coalition moves forward, it is important to have Hispanic representation within it and that its members reach out to Spanish-speaking parents.
Laurie Westfall, a clinical case manager at the Texas State University Counseling Center, said she would like to see the coalition address access to and affordability of mental health resources.
“Part of my job is referring out because we’re totally overwhelmed by students who want counseling at the counseling center,” Westfall said. “So, when you start looking outside, for the people who have no insurance and low incomes, there’s not enough services out there to refer to.”
Teresa Thompson, clinical director at Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Center, said she is optimistic that if the coalition moves fast, they may be able to lobby for and receive funding from the Texas Legislature to enhance local mental health resources.
"I’m so excited to see so many people in Hays County coming out and supporting this,” Thompson said. “If we can get a plan together that is collaborative and innovative and utilize community resources across the board, there’s a great possibility we could secure funding from the state.”