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Texas This Week: Bringing mental health services to Texas schools

This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that, in part, allows districts to partner with mental healthcare providers to offer services in schools.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas legislative session may be over, but there is still a lot happening at the Capitol. 

Three things to know in Texas politics

The session wasn't even over a week before people started calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session. Lawmakers failed to reach a compromise and pass sunset legislation extending the life of the State Board of Plumbing Examiners. That means statewide regulation and licensing of plumbers ends on September 1. But this week, Gov. Abbott hopped on Twitter, writing "Texas Plumbers: We've got this." He explained he has authority to extend the board without calling a special session. Abbott hasn't said if he will indeed do that, but wrote he will make a decision soon and "don't worry."

RELATED: 'Don't worry,' Texas governor reassures plumbers after lawmakers abolish regulating agency

Quinnipiac University released a poll of Texas voters, and when they pitted former Vice President Joe Biden against President Donald Trump for the 2020 election, Biden won. Forty-eight percent of Texans say they're backing Biden compared to 44 percent who say they want four more years of Trump. But Team Blue shouldn't start dancing just yet. Biden's lead is just outside the margin of error, it's still really early and there's that pesky little thing called the primary election that Biden would have to win first.

RELATED: Biden beats Trump in Texas, Quinnipiac University poll finds

The Texas voter-rolls saga continues. In January, former Secretary of State David Whitley put out a list of nearly 100,000 people suspected of registering to vote illegally. It turns out most of the people on the list are naturalized citizens, lawsuits were filed and a federal judge said the whole process was botched. The State Senate didn't confirm Whitley's appointment and on the last day of the session he resigned. A few days later Abbott hired Whitley to his team in the governor's office. Then this week, documents from the lawsuit became public, including emails claiming Abbott ordered Whitley to compile the list. Abbott denies it and his office points out there was sworn testimony stating he wasn't involved, but that didn't stop U.S. Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett from holding a news conference Friday questioning the governor's involvement.

RELATED: Congressmen Doggett, Castro want a probe into Gov. Abbott's role in the voter list

Interview: Dr. Elizabeth Minnie, Ph.D., L.P., executive director & co-founder of Vida Clinic

Abbott has just one week left to sign or veto bills, so it's no surprise that this week he's been a bill-signing machine including three bills to increase school safety and increase access to mental health services in schools. Specifically, House Bill 18 allows schools to partner with professionals to create mental health centers where students can be treated with parental consent. Austin ISD already has a program like this, partnering with the Vida Clinic. I sat down with Elizabeth Minnie, Ph.D., L.P., executive director & co-founder of Vida Clinic to find out how it works.

Ashley Goudeau: Good morning Dr. Minnie. Thank you for being with us this morning.

Elizabeth Minnie, Ph.D., L.P.: "Thank you for having me."

Goudeau: So you work at a clinic, in Austin, that works with Austin ISD to put in mental health services and behavioral health services for children. Tell us a little bit about the clinic.

Minnie: "Yes. So I am a psychologist and I'm also a founder of Vida Clinic. And we are an agency that specializes in school mental health. So that is all we do. And we partner with the Austin Independent School District to bring a clinically licensed mental health therapist into schools and our therapist operate full-time, year-round mental health clinics that are embedded inside of these schools. And in our clinics, we provide an array of mental health services and supports to anybody in the school community who needs them."

Goudeau: You know this is really interesting because the Legislature passed a bill and the governor signed them into law this week that would expand services like this all over Texas.

Minnie: "Yes, it's a huge win for a legislative session that really shined a light on the importance of mental health services for students in schools. What we hope they see is the success of this innovative program that we feel really creates a clear road map for how we can effectively support the mental health needs, not just of students, but also of their families and of their teachers, and other staff in schools across Texas."

Goudeau: And how long have you guys been partnering with AISD, with this type of programming?

Minnie: "Right. You know, even though these bills were just recently signed, this program is not new. Our school mental health center program began in 2012. When I came in and helped to create a pilot project in a single school in South Austin, Texas, where I worked in concert with the school staff at that high school to create this clinic. And we found that the outcomes of this clinic in a very short amount of time were so compelling that the district then decided to replicate this model now in many, many schools across the district."

Goudeau: You talked about those outcomes. Obviously, we can't talk specifically about patients, but tell us a little bit about what those positive outcomes are. What that looks like?

Minnie: "Absolutely. We know that when students participate in these school-based mental health services, that they do better in school. We also know when these students participate in these types of services, that over time they experience significant improvement in their mental health functioning. For example, we found that overtime our students demonstrated significant decreases in things like depression and anxiety, and anger problems. They also demonstrated significant improvements in good things, such as self-esteem and just their ability to function in meeting the demands of their day-to-day lives."

Goudeau: One of the things that really pushed this legislation forward was the tragedy that happened at Santa Fe High School -- a student opening fire on his classmates, killing 10 people -- and it really raised the conversation about mental health to the forefront for lawmakers. Do you feel like these types of services that you guys offer really can make a difference to prevent these types of tragedies?

Minnie: "Absolutely. We know that when schools create access to these types of services, that they're better equipped at identifying problems early and getting interventions in place very quickly. We also find that schools are more equipped to eliminate the stigma around mental health and to really work to create a holistic approach to supporting the needs of students in schools -- and not just students, but also their family members and everybody in that school community."

Goudeau: You said two things that I really want to hit on -- access, that this increases the access to care because that's one of the big problems with this. Right?

Minnie: "Absolutely! So we, our mission is to create access to these types of services for anybody who needs them. And we don't want to make assumptions about who does and who does not need them, or who has access and who does not. So we truly open our doors to everybody in the community who needs these services. And what we hear from people who take part in our program is that, even though they may be adults or they may have been struggling for a long period of time, they never were really able to overcome the barriers to access to care. And so now that we're right there where the community is, where these students are, they're able to easily come in, get the services they need and then head straight back to class without missing much school, without needing transportation to get to their sessions."

Goudeau: And the other thing is the stigma you mentioned about mental health. Children generally don't think anything of going to the school counselor to talk about things. But when you talk about mental health services and having to talk to a psychologist, sometimes adults and kids put ideas behind that. This helps reduce some of that negative stigma.

Minnie: "Absolutely! You know, part of our role on our campuses and our school mental health centers is to work with the larger school community to really shift the climate in the school. Where we're talking about mental health as just another important aspect of our overall health. It's no different than our other health needs, our physical health needs. And so we find that very shortly after we've become established on a campus, that the stigma just kind of disappears. And it's not just students that become very comfortable in getting the support that they need, but really it's everybody in that school community, young people and adults alike."

The Last Word

In this week's The Last Word, Ashley Goudeau offers a word of advice -- learn to properly use the social media platforms you use. 


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