HOUSTON – Harris County introduced a $14.3 million initiative aimed at combating  what they call a growing mental health crisis.

The millions are being allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Behavioral and Mental Health Program will increase access to mental health services with a focus on expanding counseling for youth and their families before mental health issues become debilitating or a crisis for individuals.

“We are aggressively addressing a crisis that has plagued many of our communities for too long, and has had an especially devastating and heartbreaking effect on children and youth.”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo

During a press conference, Harris County officials cited 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control that showed more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. 

Harris County will be using some of the funds to add resources for youth who face mental health challenges through targeted programs focused on developing and maintaining positive coping skills.

“Mental health services are fundamental to the overall health and well-being of our county’s youth, families, and all individuals throughout different stages of their lives. We are committed to providing young people and families with the resources they need to thrive for today and in the years to come,” said Judge Hidalgo.

Harris County schools below recommended number of trained counselors

One initiative includes increasing the quantity of trained mental health providers so they are better able to retain and hire more trained staff. The recommendation by the National Association of School Psychologists is 250 students per counselor. Every single ISD in Harris County falls short of that recommendation. The statewide average is 392 students per counselor. in Harris County, there are 1,111 students per counselor in Houston ISD, 568 in Katy ISD, 526 at Cy-Fair, and Spring ISD has 441 students per counselor.

The initiative will also recruit more high school and college students into the mental health profession. Further, the program will help connect residents with additional mental health and substance abuse to resources that will aid in their recovery. Harris County also announced that an additional $7.5 million will be allocated to address nutritional and food insecurity.

“Ensuring our communities have the proper resources necessary to care for both mental health crises and food scarcity is essential for vibrant and healthy neighborhoods,” said Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. “These $20 million in funds were made possible by President Biden’s ARPA funding. That’s why I strongly supported, and voted for, ARPA in Congress. I knew it would help countless families and children like ours in Harris County. This is yet another example of the good that happens when we put people over politics.”

Texas ranks last among all other states when it comes to access to mental health support services. In the last year, the state cut $117 million in mental health funding.