A number of community leaders from the Texoma region gathered at the Sherman Independent School District’s administration building on Tuesday to discuss the area’s mental health needs.

The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is conducting the region’s first Community Mental Health Needs Assessment Study to gather data from health care providers, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses and city governments. The study, which is being funded through a host of private and corporate donors and sponsors, as well as a matching grant provided by the Texoma Health Foundation, will cover Grayson and Fannin Counties.

The 35 organizations that make up the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team sent out a request for proposals in September to help find a firm that would be able to conduct the study. TBHLT board member Gail Utter said it was exciting to see the member organizations coming together to recognize the need for a better understanding of mental health issues facing the community.

“With the beginning of the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team with all these people coming together from all these different disciplines, that is when the conversation really started in earnest,” Utter said. “All those people do great work in our community. The more we can talk, the more we can understand who is doing what, the better we can be at what we do. In my estimation, we’re like a lot of other counties. There are conversations that need to happen. I am excited about what we have been able to get done already just because all of these people are in the same room.”

The goals of the study are to help promote access to care, reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and help keep people out of jail. The purpose of the study is to identify areas were the public is not getting full access to behavioral health services and to determine specific ways to improve those areas.

Utter said the suicide rate for students is too high and there needs to be more work done to help them. She said teenagers are less likely to talk to someone and that is why the team wants to help find more resources for them. Recently THF provided a grant to expand mental health programs at Grayson and Fannin County schools and Sherman ISD and the Denison Independent School District have begun taking the first steps to implement those programs.

During the presentation, MMHPI Vice President of Adult Policy John Petrila said more communities are starting to talk about mental health.

“A very diverse group of stake holders asked us to work with them to assess mental health needs in this area,” Petrila said. “What it reflects is a recognition by the community at large that mental illness is an important issue. A lot of communities are trying to grapple with what is the best way to serve people most in need. What we are here for is to kick off to work with the community to help identify what the need is.”

Petrila said the study will hone in on local sources and rely on data provided by the different stakeholders.

The final study is going to be used to help each stakeholder organization in the community develop its plan for helping provide better mental health services in an effort to find areas that are currently lacking and need work to make improvements.

The first round of data collection and on-site interviews began as soon as the meeting concluded. Beginning in May and into June, the study will include input from focus groups. The final report will be completed by the end of November with a public presentation of the findings slated to take place in December.

Richard A. Todd is a reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at rtodd@heralddemocrat.com.