Members of Texoma’s Behavioral Health Leadership Team gathered in Denison Wednesday morning with the goal of identifying the region’s most pressing issues regarding mental health and figuring out how organizations and community leaders can better coordinate with one another to serve those living with mental illnesses.

The appointed members, who represented the fields of health care, education, local government, criminal justice, workforce development and more, sat down for a four-hour workshop and luncheon where they shared their experiences in dealing with mental health issues and discussed the resource and information gaps that they see as affecting the community. The group also heard from mental health experts with the Texoma Health Foundation and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

“We’re trying to bring together all of the decision makers in Grayson County and to really get them to understand the issues, to understand the benefits of developing a systemic approach so that all of the parties are talking to each other,” Behavioral Health Leadership Team Organizer Gail Utter said. “We hope to hear people say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you did that; we can help by doing this,’ and then bring all that together as a solution rather than just saying, ‘That is your task, and this is my task.’ We want to come up with a more integrated solution for behavioral health and mental health issues.”

While the focus of the conference was largely on the Texoma region, psychiatrist and Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute Director of Collective Impact Christine Cline said the state of Texas as a whole is behind much of the nation when it comes to identifying those with mental illnesses and providing them the care and resources they need to live healthy, independent lives. Cline said communities often have the greatest insight as to how mental health impacts life at the local level and that they have to be the ones to shine a light on related deficiencies in order for progress to be made.

“Communities sometimes have a difficult time asking for help,” Cline said. “But the willingness to ask for that help is a predictor and an indicator of how far a community can go in addressing and improving mental health.”

Before breaking into small groups for further discussion, the participating members, dozens in all, each took their turn at the microphone and shared how mental health is intertwined with their professions. Grayson County Assistant District Attorney Britton Brooks said it’s no secret that the mentally unwell repeatedly wind up in the criminal justice system and do so because preventative and rehabilitative resources are lacking.

“I believe I can speak for the sheriff and police departments when I say that we know many of these inmates by a first name basis,” Brooks said. “The question is if we can somehow get to the root of the problem. Can we help people get jobs? Can we stop drug abuse? Can we help them get their needs addressed prior to committing the crimes? Can we also, in essence, end recidivism? The answer is yes, but the question is how.

Texoma Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Center Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Wypyski said those living with mental illness often cycle in and out of hospitals because they simply aren’t able to find stability once they’ve been treated and released.

“I think that the (lack of) outpatient resources for folks being discharged from the hospital is a huge gap,” Wypyski said. “Housing and shelters in this area and the substance abuse issue is huge in this community and does need to be addressed collaboratively.”

Following the Behavioral Leadership Team’s next meeting on August 30, members are set to break into smaller teams, each with its own area of specialization. The teams will meet every other month on their own to discuss issues and updates on initiatives.