Amid growth, county still lacks mental health providers

As Hays County continues to grow, the number of providers who offer mental health care treatment in the area isn’t quite catching up.

According to the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment released by the Seton Family of Hospitals, Hays County lags behind the national and state averages in the number of mental health care providers. According to the report, data from 2015 found that Hays County only has 86 providers per a 100,000 population, while the national average is 189 per 100,000.

Caroline Hedenberg, a collaborative care clinician with CARMAhealth in Austin and Dripping Springs, said that means some of the barriers potential patients seeking treatment face include distance and transportation.

“I think that being in Texas in general, we’ve noticed there is a lack of services available,” Hedenberg said. “I know it’s been a low priority for our state, which is unfortunate. A lot of people are in need of mental health services but don’t know how to access it or face barriers.”

A lingering stigma around mental health can keep people from seeking help, Hedenberg said. If family members and friends do not understand mental health, it can be difficult for a person to navigate treatment alone.

“We like to equate it to physical health – If you were diagnosed with diabetes, would you just ignore it and not treat it? For some reason, people don’t view mental health care like that. That causes people to keep themselves from seeking it out,” Hedenberg said.

Luann Sandahl was the first counselor to see patients in Kyle when she opened shop almost 12 years ago. Since then, she says the conversation regarding mental health treatment has become more open and accepting.

“I came from Austin. Even in Austin 11 or 12 years ago, people didn’t want people to know they were seeing a counselor. That didn’t surprise me that people in Kyle didn’t want people to know at first,” Sandahl said. “Kyle, in my opinion, has been very open-minded to services we offer (since then). I feel like people are more open than other places to needing services.”

Mental health care can take a variety of forms to fit individual lifestyles, Hedenberg said. Treatment options include seeing a therapist on a weekly or as-needed basis to more intensive programs that meet several times a week.

For someone who is interested in receiving mental health help, a primary care doctor can give initial referrals, Hedenberg said, and those without insurance can reach out to public mental healthcare providers.

“Once they make that first call to any sort of agency, people are willing to send them in the right direction,” Hedenberg said.

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