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Mental health’s impact on individuals, police and communities

February 24th 2017 | By Melanie Torre

Families are demanding Texas find more resources to tackle mental health challenges. The state ranks 32nd in the nation in care, according to Mental Health America.

Thursday, CBS Austin learned the woman who died in an officer-involved shooting in South Austin Wednesday struggled with mental illness. A family spokesperson said the illness was managed with medication.

One of many bills filed this legislative session aims to expand access to mental healthcare throughout the state. HB 10 would require health insurance plans to cover mental health needs just as they would cover any other health condition.

“Much of our work at NAMI is centered around eliminating the stigma of mental illness,” says Greg Hansch, public policy director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Texas.

NAMI says 60 percent of adults who need mental health services don’t get the help they need.

“A lot of people don’t seek out the services because there is a social stigma attached to it,” says Hansch.

Friday, Hansch met with advocates specifically about HB 10.

“If an insurance company offers mental health benefits, under this bill then they would be required to offer the mental health benefits in a way that is comparable to the other healthcare benefits,” explains Hansch.

It’s an issue that not only impacts individuals and their families but entire communities. The number of mental health calls Austin police responded to jumped from 8,000 in 2010 to nearly 12,000 in 2016.

Police say Wednesday Manchaca Road was closed for hours after a woman attempted to run down and stab officers. Her family says she struggled with mental illness. At the scene, APD confirmed there was evidence of a mental health crisis.

“They broadcast that [information] saying that she is attempting to commit suicide by cop and it is two seconds later that our officer broadcasts that shots have been fired,” chief Brian Manley said.

In 2015 Austin police shot seven people, according to the Office of the Police Monitor’ annual report. Investigations revealed six of those people were having a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

“In a lot of ways, law enforcement are the first responders when it comes to mental illness and sometimes they are well equipped to be making an appropriate intervention but other times they don’t have the tools necessary and they don’t have the resources available to be helping the person,” says Hansch.

APD confirms the department responded to 20 SWAT incidents in 2016. Seven of the incidents were people threatening suicide.

NAMI Texas says a big priority for them this session is reducing the criminalization of mental illness. A committee hearing on HB 10 is scheduled for Tuesday.