The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas has declared racism a mental health crisis.

In a two-page declaration, signed by more than 160 local, Texas and national organizations, the foundation seeks to bring attention to the effect racism has on mental health and guide the conversation on how to change policies and actions.

"It’s important to name something that exists," said Dr. Octavio Martinez, the executive director of the Hogg Foundation. "The hope in doing that is it would recognize racism in public health."

For 80 years, the Hogg Foundation has provided education on mental health throughout Texas and funded programs that focus on it.

The declaration is inspired by the events of 2020: a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting people of color, the protests following the killing of George Floyd and the renewed emphasis on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Martinez said he believes that, like other events the Hogg Foundation has studied, such as mass shootings and hurricanes, the mental health effects of this year will be felt for years to come.

The declaration states: "Racism is a mental health issue because racism causes trauma. Racial trauma accumulates throughout a person’s life, leading to activation of stress responses and hormonal adaptations, increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases and biological aging."

It goes on to point out that people of color in Texas are more likely to be uninsured than white people in Texas, are less likely to seek out services and are more likely to end treatment early. The declaration states that this is because of both financial and health care limitations as well as stigma against getting help and mental health professionals with whom they don’t identify.

The declaration calls for the establishment of an Office of Health Equity by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. It asks providers of mental health services to learn about the historical and cultural trauma of racism. And it calls for more mental health support in places throughout the community, better help within schools and an end to racial disparities in the "schools to prison pipeline."

It asks all the organizations that signed the declaration to do internal audits to identify the ways racism is embedded in their policies and structures.

Central Texas organizations that signed the declaration include the Austin Child Guidance Center, Bastrop County Cares, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Central Texas, People’s Community Clinic, the SIMS Foundation, the SAFE Alliance and the Austin Center for Grief & Loss.

"Many people had already been thinking about these very issues," Martinez said. "We put out a declaration that spoke to them."

The Hogg Foundation will focus on gathering stakeholders into one virtual room to talk about systemic changes that need to be made.

"It’s going to take time," Martinez said. "It’s more of a marathon than a sprint."

Internally, the foundation will dive deeper into the diversity of the organizations to which it makes grants, both in people it serves and within the organization.

One of the things the Hogg Foundation will continue to look at and encourage other groups to do is press the Texas Legislature on the way it funds mental health and the state hospitals, with an eye to creating more services outside of a hospital setting and having interventions by trained mental health professionals instead of police.

Martinez is encouraged by the discussions that are beginning to happen. The Hogg Foundation’s piece of it is not writing legislation but doing the research, funding grants to organizations that are doing the work and connecting organizations that are working on solutions to mental health disparities.