Fort Worth,
10:46 AM

Mental health: Under the microscope

What one Texas county is doing to make a difference

From a shocking murder-suicide carried out by a teen in Plano, Texas to the deadly attack on a Dallas jogger by a machete-wielding ex-Texas A&M player, North Texans have read their fair share of disturbing headlines in recent months.

What's under the microscope now is how mental health played a role in these unsettling crimes. While one involved a documented case of schizophrenia, the other is not so clear but may have been tied to depression or possibly a head injury. Yes, these are extreme examples of issues regarding mental health, but they are also reminders of what could go wrong if mental well-being is left unchecked.

It's long been reported that Texas is lagging when it comes to mental health spending. In fact, the state ranks 49th in the country for such spending per capita. At Cook Children's, The Center for Children's Health is working with local partners to expand awareness and access to mental health resources in one local county that especially needed help.

Not only does Denton County rank among the bottom in Texas for mental health spending (basically the worst of the worst), but in 2009 parents there reported that 10.5 percent of children received assistance for a mental illness or a behavioral, emotional or developmental problem. This percentage was higher than the state and national average at the time according to the Community-wide Children's Health Assessment & Planning Survey (CCHAPS). Cook Children's mails this survey to parents in its six-county service region (Tarrant, Johnson, Hood, Parker, Wise & Denton Counties) every three years. Since the initial survey in 2009, parents in Denton County have reported an increase in mental illness or behavioral problems both in 2012 and again in 2015.

"We have seen higher rates of diagnosed mental illness, bullying at school, self-esteem issues and experience in trauma in 2015 than we did in 2009," said Courtney Barnard, Coordinator for Regional Outreach Services at Cook Children's. "The CCHAPS data tells us what is happening according to parents, but it does not tell us why it’s happening."

Barnard says it could be that kids are experiencing mental health issues and bullying more often or it could mean that parents are more aware of these problems and know what to look for and ask about. The latest numbers from CCHAPS will be the focus of the Denton County Child Health Summit on May 12, 2016, which will be presented by Cook Children's Center for Children's Health. There will also be discussion about the efforts and impact of the Wellness Alliance for Total Children's Health (WATCH) of Denton County. WATCH is a coalition of public and private organizations, born out of the CCHAPS data. The group offers mental health resources to kids, teens, parents and professionals as well as critical support to service providers.

"Moving the needle on children's health is a long-term process because it requires people and organizations to make changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors," Barnard said. 

The Wellness Alliance for Total Children’s Health (WATCH) of Denton County is a collaboration of both public and private organizations and individuals who are invested in the total wellness of Denton County’s children. WATCH currently works to increase awareness of and access to mental health services in Denton County. Visit for more information.

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