As Southeast Texans navigate the ravages of the pandemic — inflation, unemployment, jobs on skeleton crews, students homeschooled, mourning those who have lost their lives to COVID-19, endless reports of crime and mayhem in communities that once felt safe, and the list goes on — mental health providers across the region have reported an increase in the number of adults — and children — seeking professional help.
“Unfortunately, we have seen an increased need for the services we provide to Southeast Texans,” said Heather Champion of the Spindletop Center at Beaumont, a nonprofit organization that specializes in behavioral health care, programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and recovering from substance abuse. services.
“We’re happy to be here and happy to support our community,” she quickly added, saying people asking for help is actually a good thing.
It is estimated that one in five Americans is affected by mental illness each year, not counting the families and loved ones also affected. Initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Month in May help get the message across that seeking help to deal with mental health issues isn’t just normal – it’s just as necessary to seek professional help. for any other health problem.
“It’s an important month for us,” Champion said of the near-holiday. This gives organizations like the Spindletop Center the opportunity to reach those who may need their services but are reluctant to seek such care. “Mental health has an impact on everyone. It’s not just about people dealing with serious mental illness on a daily basis.
“In recent years, with the pandemic and the hurricanes, inflation…has led people to have growing concerns, frustrations, anxieties…”
Major depressive disorder alone affects nearly 10 million American adults each year, marked by what can range from relatively subtle symptoms to suicidal thoughts, including confused thoughts, prolonged sadness or irritability, feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears and worries, social withdrawal, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, increasing inability to cope with problems and daily activities, denial of obvious problems, unexplained physical ailments and drug addiction.
Champion said that while our children’s mental health may not always come to the forefront of discussions, today’s young people not only face the usual growing pains, but also issues related to the pandemic and to current events, and have been strongly represented in the growing list of patients seeking mental health care.
“Our kids are struggling,” Champion said. In addition to the burdens that fall on children when parents are over-stressed, even the normality of going to school has been taken by an entire generation of children with little planning as to the impact it would have on their mental well-being. “When school was closed and parents had to find ways to make it work, it was very stressful – for everyone.
“A lot of kids are behind where they should be academically in the school system now,” and that can be a depressive trigger for a student who previously excelled academically. Champion described any given day for any given young Southeast Texan: Time spent learning new things alongside their peers was traded for hours upon hours watching a teacher on a screen. After-school activities gave way to long nights where parents tried to teach – and learn for themselves – “new” mathematics. Evenings were no longer for having fun with friends, but rather for trying to catch up on hard-to-remember educational material with so much else cluttering up scattered thoughts. “It was difficult for the parents and the children.”
And it’s not just the Spindletop Center that’s noticing increased interest in the service. Baptist Behavioral Health also maintains a comprehensive schedule, and the reach of Samaritan Counseling has also expanded.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) released the semi-annual mental health expectation to the end of 2021, indicating Texas’ critical need for additional staff and infrastructure to meet the needs of those seeking care. .
Workforce shortages, HHSC reported, include difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified psychiatrists, licensed clinicians and mental health professionals.
“These short-term issues were primarily due to longer-term difficulties in remaining competitive with outside employment opportunities, while having limited funding to retain existing staff or recruit new staff” , says the HHSC legislative report. “Challenges were greater in rural and underserved areas.”
By the end of 2021, dozens of children and adults were on the region’s mental health waiting list, as presented to the Texas Legislature. Hundreds of Texans across the state were on mental health waiting lists.
“Staffing shortages are taking beds offline,” HHSC staff told the Legislature, both in communities and in public psychiatric hospitals, where hundreds of additional patients have been put on waiting lists for critical and non-critical care. On the heels of the state report, the commission recommended additional funding for mental health care, increased support for agencies trying to fill staffing positions and more opportunities for telehealth services.
The results of the HHSC recommendations have helped improve local mental health agencies, the Spindletop champion said.
“Things got better,” Champion said. “The last legislative system, there was more funding injected into our system. It’s great when legislators recognize the need in our communities; and, at the federal level, those dollars are starting to flow. So that was a big help.
Getting staff on the payroll has always been a hassle, but events like Spindletop’s recent job fair have helped fill the void.
“Hiring, recruiting and retaining has been difficult, as it has been for many hospitals and other healthcare providers,” Champion said. Health professionals are exhausted, as is the rest of the population. Many choose different career paths. “We still have vacancies.”
But, Champion would add, in addition to jobs, Spindletop Center also has help for those who need it. She warns that viewing mental health issues as taboo, or ‘bad’, or something that will pass, something that only happens to others is detrimental to one’s own well-being. It is also detrimental to the well-being of those you meet. It’s okay, she says, to be kind to yourself and others.
The Spindletop Center is hosting a virtual mental health symposium May 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. via Zoom, Champion said, themed “self-care,” in hopes of reaching a wider audience who have need to hear how it’s OK to take some time to focus on mental care, as well.
“With the traumas we’ve been through, it’s important to take care of yourself,” Champion said. “A lot of people don’t know what that means – and how you can incorporate self-care into your daily life. It can be gardening, yoga, organizing your wardrobe, cooking healthy meals…”
Featured guests at the symposium will include comedian Avish Parashar, subject matter expert Amber Woods, and breakout sessions covering a wealth of material with guest experts.
“And, even better – it’s free,” Champion said. Professionals can also pay a small fee — $25 — for continuing education credits that can be earned by attending the seminar.
“The number one thing our community can do is stand together and be there for each other,” she summarized what we can do for the mental health well-being of our community. collective. “You never know what someone is going through that day. A simple, ‘Hi; How are you, you can go far.
“And don’t take ‘good’ for an answer if you know it’s definitely not good. Don’t be afraid to nudge — and be there for that person. We need to let people know that we care about them. We need to be there for them.
“We are humans and that’s what we were meant to do – be there for each other.”
Find more information about the Spindletop Center’s 5th Annual Mental Health Symposium and register at spindletopcenter.org or https://secure.qgiv.com/for/202sym/event/846636/.
This article is the first in a series running throughout May Mental Health Awareness Month.