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Local Mental Health Experts Address Coping With Grief, Mental Health This Season

StarCare Specialty Healthcare System main offices. StarCare is the state designated Local Authority for mental health, intellectual disabilities and substance use disorders.
Rob Avila
Texas Tech Public Media
StarCare Specialty Healthcare System main offices. StarCare is the state designated Local Authority for mental health, intellectual disabilities and substance use disorders.

While the Holidays are associated with celebration and joy, they can be a difficult time for some. Work demands, separation from family or friends and holiday expectations can raise feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, particularly for those experiencing a loss.

The pandemic has worsened pre-existing mental health issues. In a survey given to 1,320 mental health professionalsby the New York Times, 75 percent of respondents reported an increase in appointments and wait times for services.

General anxiety and depression were cited as the top reasons for patients seeking support, along with family and relationship issues.

In apublic advisory earlier this month, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy warned young people were facing “devastating” mental health effects, heightened by the pandemic. The53-page advisory noted that more than 140,000 children in the US experienced a loss of parent or grandparent caregiver due to COVID-19.

Megan Thoen, director of the Psychology clinic at Texas Tech, said her patients are still dealing with problems related to the pandemic which, along with additional holiday pressures, can make it an even harder time to deal with mental health.

“They’re trying to do the best they can to protect themselves and their family members who might not understand that, and it can just be really complicated,” she said. “So, for many, it’s not a time of rest at all and can compound issues.”

For those dealing with a loss she said, there are ways to help support themselves or a friend or family member dealing with the mental health challenges associated with grief.

Grief is a normal human response to loss that can be felt, not just from the loss of a loved one, but from a loss of a job or unwelcome change in circumstances. If unaddressed, emotions can intensify and lead to physical symptoms such as chronic headaches, stomach issues, muscle aches and trouble sleeping.

Thoen said recognizing the source of personal grief is the first step to addressing it. Once you know what it is, coping with it can mean, talking through the issue with friends and family or journaling. It’s important to allow room between celebrating, to allow those struggling to express their grief.

“Getting those emotions out is really important,” she said. “Talking to a friend or a family member about how you're feeling and just having someone to listen to you, not because you're looking for advice, but just to get out what you're feeling.”

Richard Jolly, Crisis Services Manager for StarCare—Lubbock’s designated authority for mental health—said for those grieving the death of a family member, the holidays can be a time to honor that person and be there for one another.

“If you had somebody in the last calendar year that passed away and it will be your first holiday without him, try talking about it to honor that individual and relive some of the good memories,” he said.

Seeking Mental Health Treatment

Thoen said those experiencing prolonged grief, which can fall into a similar category as depression, should reach out to area professional health services.

She said most can look first to employers to see what resources they offer to address mental health. People can also look to their primary care physician, who can discuss mental health systems and rule out physical conditions.

Those looking for one-on-one therapy will have a more difficult time. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administrationidentifies Lubbock County as a Health Professional Shortage area for mental health services. A2019 estimate by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found Lubbock has only one mental health professional per 700 residents.

Thoen said while the wait can be up to six months to see a therapist, it's still worth reaching out.

“Don’t hesitate to ask for that help to get on a waitlist for services and to see what they recommend you can do in the meantime until you can get in,” she said. “Know that there's hope — it just might take some time.”

For those in need of immediate help Jolly said, StarCare’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline is always available. Their crisis team provides intervention and assessment to determine the level of care for any mental health need, to provide the appropriate services or referrals. Mental Health Crisis Line: 806-740-1414.

Other Local Resources:

StarCare Specialty Health System

Covenant Health - Behavioral Health Services

Catholic Charities of Lubbock

Family Counseling Services

Texas Tech Psychology Clinic

List of Psychiatrists in area

Support Groups

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Lubbock Chapter

Rob Avila, J.D, is a reporter at Texas Tech Public Media. You can follow him on social media @Robavila_TTUPM.