There are currently only four psychiatrists on staff at UT to serve the mental health needs of 50,000 students. A bill filed in the Texas House of Representatives may help improve psychiatric services not only for students, but for Texans across the state.
Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, filed House Bill 593, which allows specially trained psychologists to prescribe psychiatric medication. The training for psychologists would include two years of work in biomedical sciences after they have completed their doctorate. This bill aims to help with the increasing need for mental health services in Texas.
“Within the 254 counties in the state of Texas, over 200 of them are deemed as having a shortage of psychiatric services,” Burrows said.
At the Counseling and Mental Health Center, students are only allowed to receive psychiatric services for one to two semesters before they are referred to outside practitioners. This semester limit is in place to provide timely service and reduced wait times for all students at UT, according to the CMHC website.
Once referred out, the average wait time for a first psychiatric appointment is one month, according to a study published to Psychiatry Services.
Burrows’ bill would allow patients to access psychiatric care faster due to the increased number of providers. At CMHC there are six psychologists on the clinical staff, so Burrows’ bill could increase the number of professionals allowed to prescribe psychiatric medication at UT to 10. CMHC was not able to comment on the issue at the time of publishing.
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, an organization prioritizing mental health public policy, has released reports with recommendations on how to increase access to mental health care in Texas. The lack of action from lawmakers to combat this shortage of mental health services isn’t due to lack of concern, but a lack of obvious solutions, according to a Hogg report released
Hogg program officer Colleen Horton said lawmakers need to seriously evaluate these recommendations to meet the mental health needs of Texans.
“We think the Legislature needs to take a comprehensive look at the work,” Horton said. “We don’t really need to study it anymore, we know the problem exists. We just need to start implementing some of these recommendations.”
The foundation has also talked about the need to evaluate scope of practice rules since specialists, such as psychiatrists, will not be able to meet anticipated future needs. They recommend
lawmakers explore ways to maximize each profession’s skills to meet the growing demand for mental health services.Psychologists have been prescribing psychiatric medication in the military for 27 years and New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois and Iowa have all passed legislation similar to Burrows’ bill.
The most recent law, passed in Iowa in 2016, received praise from the American Psychological Association.
“This is a landmark decision that will improve access to a wide range of mental health services,” said Katherine Nordal, APA’s executive director for professional practice, shortly after the Iowa law was passed. While Burrows doesn’t know if this bill will fix the psychiatrist shortage in Texas, he does believe it is important to prioritize mental health.
“Anything we can do to provide some of these necessary services for people who are experiencing mental health issues is a step in the right direction,” Burrows said.