Fall 2017 - 60827 - PA 388K – Advanced Topics in Public Policy | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2017 - 60827 - PA 388K – Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Mental Health and Social Policy

Course Description

Policymakers increasingly recognize that in order to improve a range of social and economic problems, they must better address deeply rooted challenges in mental health service delivery. This course uses mental health as a lens to understand interconnections between discrete policy areas such as healthcare, criminal and juvenile justice, education, and social services. It analyzes policies and practices in a variety of settings and contexts to identify the impact of those policies on individuals with mental health challenges, their families, communities and society at large. To enhance students’ understanding of these issues, the seminar includes site visits to a variety of settings including a state psychiatric hospital, a community mental health clinic and a specialty court.

The course will cover such topics as: 

  • The clinical and social context of mental illness.
  • Diagnosis, science and policy development.
  • Disparities in service access and outcomes.
  • Violence, trauma and mental health.
  • The financing and organization of service delivery.
  • Healthcare reform, managed care expansion and integrated care.
  • Cross-agency coordination and the impact of untreated mental illness in various service systems (criminal justice, child welfare, education, etc.).
  • Prevention and early intervention.

These topics increasingly are central to policy discussions both nationally and in Texas, where they are the focus of current legislative study and debate, as well as debate in the judicial policy-making arena. We will take advantage of any relevant interim hearings to advance our understanding of the connection between mental health policy and key legislative issues.

The class is taught by Professor Lynda Frost, an expert in mental health, education policy and juvenile justice.  Students also hear from several guest speakers who are key stakeholders helping to shape policy and practice on these issues in Texas. The highly  interdisciplinary course will be cross-listed in the School of Social Work, and students typically will come from multiple academic programs.

Requirements and Expectations

This class will be conducted as a seminar, and it is dependent upon an informed and lively discussion. Students are required to attend all classes, do all the reading and participate in class discussions. Class attendance and participation will be considered in grading. Writing assignments will include a policy memo, short reflection papers and an issue brief on a subject of the student's choice.

In an effort to serve the community and to offer students projects that are both practical and useful, the instructor will work with community-based organizations and government agencies to identify projects that will be of use to them in their efforts, and some of the specific writing assignments may be shaped around the needs of these stakeholders. 


Our primary text is available at the Co-op and on Amazon.com. There will also be one copy on reserve at the Perry Castañeda Library.

Mechanic, D., McAlpine, D.D. & Rochefort, D.A. (2014). Mental health and social policy: Beyond managed care (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

The second primary text will be provided free-of-charge by the instructor:

Hogg Foundation for Mental Health (2016). A guide to understanding mental health systems and services in Texas (3rd ed.).  

Additional reading materials will be posted in Canvas.


SRH 3.216/3.219