How Can We Fix Texas’ Mental Healthcare Crisis?

This blog post is co-authored by The Council on Recovery’s President & CEO Mel Taylor, MSW, and Executive Vice President Mary Beck, LMSW.

Substance use is a primary driver of readmission to the hospital and/or criminal justice systems.  If we addressed substance use disorders in conjunction with mental health disorders, the number of people in need of care would significantly decrease. Yet time and again, substance use is viewed as a secondary concern and not as a confounding disease affecting the majority of people with a mental health disorder.

As we read Alex Stuckey’s three-part series How Texas Fails the Mentally Ill, we were met with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it is heartening to see a light being shined on this decades long travesty – a crisis that strips people of their dignity and basic human rights; that tells people they have to wait, homeless on the streets or in jail to get the care they desperately need. On the other hand, it is concerning to see the pronounced blind spot regarding co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders that exists among healthcare providers, behavioral health providers, policy makers, and the community at large.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, multiple national population surveys show that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. And the coronavirus pandemic is only making matters worse. A recent study conducted by The Recovery Village asked 1,000 American adults about their use of drugs and alcohol in the past month, and 55 percent reported an increase in their alcohol consumption in the past month, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. When asked what prompted their substance use, respondents cited stress, boredom, and an effort to cope with anxiety or depression.

At The Council on Recovery, we’ve watched this dynamic intensify over the past year, with more clients struggling with relapse, suicidal ideation, and overdose. So what can be done? First, we must acknowledge and embrace the fact that the mental health care system is in disarray, and if co-occurring substance use disorders continue to be discounted and dismissed, it is unlikely that outcomes will improve.

Beyond that, we know that we cannot overcome this crisis if fragmented policies and underfunding continues. Texas needs a comprehensive analysis and long-range plan for the entire system, led by behavioral health experts who equally represent substance use and mental health disorders. The plan must study leading-edge best practices for the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Most importantly, it must identify multiple financing options that incentivize public and private providers – as well as payers – to participate in the plan and to provide best practice care.

Last fall, The Council on Recovery launched The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders as just such an initiative.

This multi-partner Center will explore and document current best practices, conduct evaluation on models of care, and identify and advocate for financing options. Led by The Council, other partners include The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Harris County Psychiatric Center, Baylor College of Medicine and Harris Health, as well as a psychiatrist in private practice and community members with lived experience.

Over the last 75 years, The Council has witnessed the changes in the landscape of behavioral health care unfold in real time, along with the devastating consequences. In the wake of the pandemic, the oncoming tidal wave of mental health and substance use disorders will undoubtedly inflict even more suffering on the individuals trapped within our broken system.

But we can turn the tide.

Initiatives like The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders can help to educate the public, policy makers, and behavioral health professionals about the crisis in our mental health system. Together we can advocate for legislative priorities that support these efforts. Because doing nothing is not an option.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact The Council today. We offer telehealth services to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.

A Special Announcement From President & CEO Mel Taylor

Dear Friends,   

I wish to inform you of my intention to retire as President and CEO with The Council, effective August 31, 2021. Although this retirement will be effective in August, I have been asked to remain in an “emeritus” position working for the Foundation for the next three years to ensure a smooth transition, assist in planned giving, and aid with institutional memory.  A search process to identify my replacement is underway, capably led by our Board Chair, Dean Quinn, along with the help of outside counsel. I’m excited to be handing the baton over whenever that person is chosen and will support them in any way I can.   

In my 28 years as President and CEO, much has changed, and as I reflect on my time with The Council, I am filled with awe and gratitude. In August 1993, I went to work for The Council at a most difficult time. We had a deficit of $93,000, almost no available cash reserves and were nearly 90% financed by state and federal grants. Less than 1% of the Houston community had ever heard of “The Houston Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.” We had a Foundation in name only. But, we had the passion, vision and dedication of a few willing board members, a couple of 3 x 5 index cards of donors and a powerful, if not resilient, intention to prove that, as someone said, “We really can raise money for drunks!” 

Today, we are operating with a balanced portfolio between public and private funds. We have established the organization as one of the best — in culture, in meeting mission, and in esteem by the community we serve. We have established Foundation reserves to help ensure the Council’s operation for years to come, secured a stable annual operating budget, and continuously serve more than 65,000 people each year!   

During this 28 year period, we have helped a lot of people – those we can tell of, and many who were helped that we will never know. We have seen miracles of recovery many times over, and we have experienced the deep loss that comes when addiction is not faced head on. I am profoundly grateful to you and our many friends and partners who shared in our passion and helped to grow and sustain our mission. My greatest gift has been to experience so much passion and dedication by an incredible staff, board, and community who serve a purpose greater than themselves and have given back to service in untold ways. 

Through it all, it has been my honor to help lead this organization through fires, mergers, and pandemics, building new programs and responding to changes in our community. Each day of those 28 years I have never tired or desired to be elsewhere, looking forward to coming to work and to the opportunities we have been given.  

As we look to the light at the end of the tunnel of these past twelve months and ahead to our 75th anniversary, The Council is well positioned for the future. We have launched our Center for Co-Occurring Disorders, completed a successful reserve fund campaign, secured grants and contracts for the next several years, and have a strong and devoted leadership team and board of trustees.  

And so, the time is now for me to step aside and make room for the next person to assume leadership as I retire from daily service to The Council. Until then, we continue to serve those that need us, now and in the future – vowing never to turn anyone away.  

Yours in gratitude and recovery, 

Mel

For The Council’s official press release detailing Mel’s career and legacy, click here.

The Council reflects on a year of COVID-19

Almost a year has passed since COVID-19 reached our own backyard. Within this year, we lost more than 500,000 lives, experienced historic social and political unrest, and most recently, endured a traumatic winter storm. Our community has faced a staggering amount of adversity within a relatively short timeline, so it is important to pause and reflect on these challenging events as we move forward to rebuild and recover.

Like most people, by the second week of March 2020, we understood that everything was about to change very quickly, and in a very big way. We also knew that the frightening and unprecedented nature of this global pandemic was going to inflict major, long-term damage on the collective mental health of our community, and that we needed to be ready.

Within the span of two weeks, we transformed our services to keep our staff and clients safe from this new and mysterious virus. Our quality assurance team vetted telehealth platforms, and created and trained staff on new policies and procedures. Our two-person IT team transitioned entire operations to remote work. Our intake department created new processes for virtual paperwork that met regulatory requirements. Our direct services staff phased out in-person assessments, counseling, and meetings, in favor of telehealth and other virtual services.

year of covid-19

That was just the beginning of an unforgettable year of challenge and change. New questions arose for programs and events that often required answers that balanced both creativity and adherence to the rules and regulations of our industry and funders. How do we reach those who need our help but don’t necessarily have the technological means or knowledge to participate in our services? How do we continue to serve students in schools when most are still meeting in virtual or hybrid formats? How do we help those who benefit from support groups we cannot host in person? How can we serve those on the front lines of the pandemic who are most affected? How do we continue our cherished speaker series virtually?

As the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches, we wanted to take this moment to acknowledge the complexity and enormity of our collective experiences throughout the last year.

At The Council, we are proud of our determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. But we celebrate these achievements while also remembering that they came with immense personal hardships unique to this natural disaster. We saw teens in crisis after having their social and school lives upended. We heard of clients and community members relapsing after years of sobriety and stepped in to help wherever possible. We responded to cases of acute mental health distress triggered by the fallout of the pandemic.

As we move toward the light at the end of this tragic year, we know that the trauma and grief from the adversities our community has faced – and continues to face – will long outlast the current circumstances. That’s why our resolve to serve the community is unwavering. The Council has learned to adapt and respond to each challenge, strengthening our ability to serve Houston and deepening our passion to help all who need us.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or another mental health issue, pandemic-related or otherwise, call us at 713.914.0556 or contact us through our website today. Our qualified and compassionate intake team will get you to the help you need and deserve.

Celebrating the Story of The Council

Over the last six months, the communications team has been combing through The Council’s archives in preparation for our 75th Anniversary, poring over thousands of photos, mementos, newspaper clippings, board minutes, flyers, planning documents, and notes. Our goal was simple: to celebrate the story of The Council.

Throughout the coming year, we want to bring that story to each of you – the story of our roots and evolution; our victories and setbacks; the story of attitudes that changed with time and those that remained stubbornly the same; and of the defining values and principles that guided us through the decades to make The Council the organization it is today. Most importantly, we want people to see The Council’s impact on Houston over the last three-quarters of a century and to join us in redoubling our efforts in the years ahead with renewed vigor and excitement. 

The reality is that our work is not yet done, nor do we expect it to ever be fully finished.

In 1957, Dr. Spencer Bayles, a board member of The Council who also supervised our Alcoholic Treatment Clinics, said, “The Council cannot expect to be able to treat all the alcoholics in Houston…[instead] its function should be to point the way and to train others in the treatment process.”

Dr. Bayles’ words still ring true today. The magnitude of addiction in our community cannot be solved by our efforts alone. But we believe today – just as we believed 75 years ago – that addiction is a disease that can be treated and that it is worth our best efforts. And we will never stop pointing the way to recovery.

Story of the council
Mrs. Frances Robertson at The Council’s information center in the State National Building in the early 1950s.

The story of The Council is not just our own. Instead, it is the story of the millions – yes, millions – of lives touched by our work, and how their recoveries have rippled out across time to make our world a better place.

As we celebrate our accomplishments this year, we invite you to join with us to tell your own Council story. After all, you have trusted us over the last 75 years with your time, talent, and treasure, and our work continues today for you and because of you. 

Contact us here to share your Council story today. To learn more about our rich history, click here.

Tips for Coping During this Holiday Season

This blog post was contributed by CHOICES counselor Alejandra Ortiz.

Our holidays this year look quite different from a year ago. The holiday season is typically when we come together in community to share time with one another. This year, while families cannot physically come together, there are other ways we can cope with the stress and depression that social distancing guidelines may cause.

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

It is okay to take time to cry and express your feelings. Don’t force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holidays. It important for you to share how you feel. You may feel disappointment, sadness, or grief, just to name a few. Reach out to someone who can validate your feelings and help you move through them. If you are feeling lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Try reaching out to a loved one through text or video calls.

2. Keep active.

Physical activity boosts mood both in the short and long term. Go for a 10-15 minute walk to increase your mood and calmness. You can be artistic and bring your camera to take some scenic pictures. Have you visited some of these parks around Houston?

  • Memorial Park
  • Buffalo Bayou
  • Houston Arboretum
  • Discovery Green
  • Hermann Park
  • Gerald Hines Waterwall Park
  • Terry Hershey Park
  • White Oak Greenway

Remember, with keeping active, it is also important to eat, drink water and sleep well. Make sure you are staying hydrated, eating balanced meals and maintaining a sleeping schedule. Also remember that while alcohol might lift your mood and reduce anxiety at the time, in the long term, alcohol increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

3. Keep your expectations realistic.

Hearing how everyone is spending this holiday season differently this year could lead to potential disappointment and additional stress. A way to eliminate this is by setting clear expectations and boundaries with family and friends. In addition, it is important to respect everyone’s level of comfort during these difficult times.

If you feel you need professional help with managing depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our highly-experienced counselors will confidentially discuss your unique situation and quickly get you the help you need.

Expanding Outpatient Treatment with ‘Discovering Choices’

The Council on Recovery is excited to announce the launch of Discovering Choices, a new outpatient treatment program dedicated to expanding access to quality treatment services to those in the community who may not have the financial resources to afford it. This program is possible through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and helps us to keep our promise to turn no one away.

The introduction of Discovering Choices expands The Council’s long history of best-in-class outpatient treatment – meaning that clients can receive the help they need during the day without staying overnight. Building on years of experience in outpatient treatment, and bringing together a team of highly skilled and compassionate staff members, we intend to bring the same quality of care that people know and trust from our Healing Choices intensive outpatient program to an even broader population of people in need.

outpatient treatment

Treatment options in Discovering Choices are tailored to the needs of individual clients, and can include a six-week treatment program that consists of individual therapy, psychoeducation, and process groups, and an eight-week recovery management program to gradually transition participants into the community. It also includes specialized treatment tracks for adults, pregnant and parenting women, and individuals with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders.

Treating substance use disorders concurrently with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, helps to address a critical gap in Harris County’s behavioral health system.

“For far too long, we have separated individual disorders of the mind and body, as if they are not interrelated,” says Chance Tran, PhD, director of The Council’s community behavioral health department. “Treating substance abuse in conjunction with co-occurring mental health disorders is necessary because it interacts with the other directly. Worsening substance use will lead to these disorders, and there are also those with these disorders who will use substances in order to self-medicate and cope.”

For more information on Discovering Choices, to inquire about eligibility, or to make a referral, please call (713) 942-4100, option 3, or contact us through our website.