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Uvalde prompted Texas to start taking mental health in schools more seriously. Is it enough?

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TX: Uvalde, Texas Memorials
Sipa USA/Joshua Guerra/Sipa USA via Reuters
21 chairs, flags and crosses are displayed in front of local businesses on May 30th, 2022 in Uvalde, TX. They each honor the 19 students and two teachers killed in a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers pushed several important issues into the national conversation, including the availability of guns, school security, and mental health access.

The phrase "mental health" has been used repeatedly in politics to avoid the gun control debate. But there was a significant lack of access to mental health care in Uvalde prior to the shooting.

Texas ranks last in the United States when it comes to access to mental health care. It’s also at the bottom for the number of people insured. But even if someone is insured, 14% of Texas children with health insurance have no coverage for treatment of mental or emotional problems.

The numbers are even more grim throughout the nation. About 75% of rural counties across the United States have no mental health providers, and Texas has the highest number of counties with no mental health care providers, according to an ABC News analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

This is especially important in rural areas like Uvalde, where mental health professionals have been few and far between. Someone may have to drive for hours to see one. According to the Department of Health and Human Services rankings for 2022, Uvalde had one mental health care provider for every 1,780 people. The best performing counties in the United States have one provider for every 250 people.

Rural areas across the country have numbers similar to Uvalde’s 2022 numbers. They're called mental health deserts, and troubled kids may have to suffer for months or a year or longer before they can see a mental health professional.

In the days following the shooting, the state expanded its Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program to any districts who want it. Will it be enough to help the millions of students in need?

In this special report, host Bonnie Petrie explores the depth of the mental health crisis in schools, including obstacles in the way of access to care and possible solutions being tested right now in the wake of Uvalde.

Texas Public Radio is part of the Mental Health Parity Collaborative, a group of newsrooms that are covering challenges and solutions to accessing mental health care in the U.S. The partners on this project include The Carter Center, The Center for Public Integrity, and newsrooms in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie