Health Officials Working to Change Stigma on Mental Illness

October 9, 2015

By Brandon Jones

AUSTIN – Health officials in Travis County hosted a forum at Huston-Tillotson University on Wednesday about a national initiative aimed to divert people with mental illnesses from jails and prisons to mental health facilities to get the help they need.

“I truly believe that this could be the start of something big,” said Kate Anderson about the Stepping Up Initiative.

Anderson said her mental illness began after years of abuse as a child. Anderson suffered from depression, anxiety and OCD. She began using drugs to deal with her pain, and her drug use lasted for 15 years.

“It wasn’t until I was arrested and sent to the Del Valle Correction Center when I realized I hit my lowest point in my life,” Anderson said.

Anderson feels if she had received treatment for her mental illness before going to jail, she wouldn’t have ended up in the jail system.

“Think about all the lives that could be saved because of this,” Anderson said.

Ellen Richards with Austin-Travis County Integral Care shared with KVUE some of the ideas this national initiative could bring to the Austin area. Richards said mobile crisis teams would be readily available. Plus, they’ll try to establish a program designed to improve police interaction with people experiencing mental health issues.

Statistics show that 30 percent of Travis County inmates have mental illness and the majority of them are women.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, cities like San Antonio have screened over 20,000 people and diverted them away from jail and to appropriate treatment facilities.

Anderson hopes Stepping Up will be a way to de-stigmatize mental illness in America.

Go here for more information on the Stepping Up Initiative.

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