Sheriff calling on lawmakers for mental health action

Published: Jun. 15, 2018 at 9:36 PM CDT
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"About 30 to 35 percent of the people who are in our jail now have some sort of mental illness or crisis going on,” Grayson County Sheriff Tom Watt said.

Watt isn't just the sheriff of Grayson County; he's also a member of the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team, a local group of community leaders determined to improve health.

Better access to care is one of their main goals.

"To me it's better to spend the dollars helping them stay out of jail than to have them in jail,” Watt said.

Watt posted on social media Thursday, calling on U.S. lawmakers to broaden care for the elderly by expanding Medicare to include licensed professional counselors like Danielle Sneed.

"Across the state of Texas there's quite the shortage of mental health professionals and this is one way that limits the accessibility of mental health professionals,” Sneed said.

Sneed is the Director of Behavioral Health Services at Texoma Community Center, the local mental health authority for Cooke Fannin and Grayson counties.

The center provides services to all individuals regardless of insurance or ability to pay.

She said seniors are far from immune to mental health problems, and often suffer in silence, due to the big adjustments in their lives like retirement, physical health problems, and grief from losing friends, family and spouses.

"A lot of times we recognize the increase of suicide or non-suicidal self-injury with the younger population teenager and young adults but we're actually seeing an increase of suicide attempts and completions in the elderly population, too,” Sneed said.

The elderly population itself is also growing.

Right now people 65 and over make up about 15 percent of the general population. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.

Watt said Senate Bill 1879 would pay for more counselors for people on Medicare.

It was introduced in September but hasn't been voted on.

"I think if our representatives will broaden this law I think it will have quite the impact on our elderly and I believe that impact will be positive,” Watt said.

The senate reconvenes in September.