By Alex Copeland
Texas Health and Human Services has implemented a free mental health support line to connect citizens anxious over the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions with someone who can help. The resource targets COVID-19-related mental health issues specifically, and is open to all Texans at 833-986-1919, a toll-free number. COVID-19, which has reached pandemic levels, is a highly contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
Counseling services are confidential and free of charge to people who call the hotline, which is operated by the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services.
“It can be helpful to talk to someone when you are facing anxiety, depression, and stress, which are not uncommon to experience in the face of a rapidly changing situation like a pandemic,” said Sonja Gaines, Deputy Executive Commissioner for IDD in a statement.
Those aren’t the only mental health services available to Texans experiencing stress and anxiety.
“People actually have a lot more options right now because of telehealth,” said Sara Bushey-Reyes, a licensed professional counselor located in Marble Falls. “They’re not just restricted to where they are in their city. They can talk to anyone in the state of Texas.”
Telehealth is a term that refers to a host of different platforms and services, all of which use technology and telecommunication tools to deliver remote healthcare. People and counselors can connect by video, which offers more benefits than a phone call.
“With telehealth, you can see the therapist and hear them and it’s as close to face-to-face as you can get,” said Bill Stone, a licensed professional counselor out of Cari Foote and Associates, PLLC in Marble Falls. “With just (a) phone you can’t get body language. You might be able to get tone or mood, but you don’t know what they’re appearance is like. So that’s why we highly recommend whenever you can do it, we will try to do it via telehealth.”
Bushey-Reyes recommends calling your insurance provider about coverage and qualified professionals in your health system, or visiting Psychology Today to browse therapists.
“A lot of us are offering really low rates right now because of the financial concern,” she said. “And also because we want to make sure that everyone who needs it has access to mental health care and do not have to worry so much about the financial end of it,” she said. “So even if they don’t have insurance, they can call the counselor and ask if they are offering discounts or sliding scales during this time.”
Many people who were already dealing with anxiety and depression, but were managing their symptoms well before the pandemic, might find that the disease is compounding their preexisting mental health issues, Bushey-Reyes said.
“The job loss, the financial stress, and also just the underlying worry you’re going to get the virus or someone you love is going to get the virus is always there,” she said. “This kind of compounds the issues that people were already dealing with.”
Even those that did not have preexisting mental health issues face challenges, Bill Stone said.
“I think that the isolation, for those who don’t like to isolate, has been a big problem,” he said. “Many are feeling disconnected from family and friends. And there are lots of ways to connect via social media and WhatsApp and other things like that, but a lot of people are feeling very disconnected.”
And that’s why it’s so important to reach out, break that isolation, and get help when you need it.
For more on how COVID-19 is affecting the Highland Lakes, visit the DailyTrib.com coronavirus resources webpage.