EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Nearly half of Americans are experiencing a mental health crisis as a result of social distancing measures designed to stymie the spread of COVID-19.
While the social distancing measures are proving effective, the isolation is taking a toll on the minds of millions.
The stress of life as we knew it is impacting individuals on economic, physical, social, and emotional levels that can be traumatic.
Many people report feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and anger while others report behavioral changes like loss of appetite or sleep.
It can feel like being caught under a waterfall with an umbrella. Or like a snow globe slowly resettling after being turned upside down and shaken, hard.
Our world is changing and our minds are adapting.
Tuesday, El Paso experts joined Congresswoman Veronica Escobar in a tele-town hall to discuss COVID-19’s impact on mental health and domestic violence in the Borderland.
“The reason is because we know everyone is under a tremendous amount of stress,” said Congresswoman Escobar.
“Loneliness and isolation exacerbates what people are going through. People are getting depressed, people are getting sad, people are getting worried,” said Congresswoman Escobar.
Between 2000 and 2012 more than twice as many women died from partner-related violence in the United States than soldiers at war.
According to El Paso County Attorney JoAnne Bernal, incidence of domestic violence has increased, but the reporting of such incidences is down by about 75 percent.
People are not reporting domestic violence.
“The people need to know there are services available from all sorts of different areas,” said Bernal.
The County Attorney offers services to help protect victims of domestic violence online and via phone.
One priority is the safety of people who are living with their aggressors under “Stay Home, Work Safe” orders. Sandra Garcia from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence explains that the organization remains open and continues to offer services. Support ranges from an Emergency Shelter people can access, to a Family Resource Center, to the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program that works with aggressors to modify violent behavior.
Garcia and other advocates ask that friends and family of people in abusive relationships check in as often as they can. Garcia recommends using a video chat service like Facetime to be able to determine signs of physical abuse or distress. Friends and family can reach out to the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence for safety plans if they suspect someone they know is in danger.
Maricarmen Garza from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid echoed the support of Bernal and Garcia, and explained that legal services are still being offered free of charge as well as support for victims of violence and stalking.
“This may be a very dangerous time,” she says. “Trust your instincts, have a safety plan, call for help when it’s safe.”
In addition to domestic violence, stressors from the pandemic can cause increased instance of child, elder, and animal abuse.
People are scared, people are angry, and people do not like feeling as if they are being kept in cages. Even if it is their home …and office, and gym, and everything else we need them to be right now.
Mental health education is critical, and experts urge people to seek information.
“It starts awareness, it starts with education,” says Dr. Angel M. Rodriguez-Chevres of Emergence Health Network. “It starts with getting rid of the biases and misconceptions we have about mental health. There is a neurobiological basis for mental health disorders.”
There are many free resources available in El Paso to help manage mental health issues across a variety of issues to the multitude of vulnerable populations in the city.
If we must isolate, we also need emotional support.
The El Paso Child Guidance Center has successfully transitioned all of its services digitally. Kathy Revtyak, Trauma-Informed Care Manager, explains that clinical and trauma-informed services are available, and there are immediate openings for appointments. The El Paso Child Guidance Center offers services that range from mental health treatment to wellness education for children, adolescents, and families.
Moreover, the El Paso Child Guidance Center is hosting online resiliency and wellness groups to help people cope during this period of social distancing and heightened anxiety.
Services are open to those in need, and the El Paso Child Guidance Center prides itself on never turning anyone away who cannot pay.
The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic remains open and is offering services to clients virtually and over the phone.
Jeanette James from the clinic invites veterans and their families to utilize the services offered that range from mental health services, to housing services, to disaster relief.
Prospective clients can call 915-320-1390 to speak to an in-take coordinator.
The Borderland Rainbow Center is providing support to the community that include access to a food pantry, as well as LGTBQ+-affirming counseling and psychotherapy services.
Brenda Risch, Executive Director at the Borderland Rainbow Center, encourages people to seek support if they are grappling with their gender identity and sexuality.
Peer support groups and counseling services are available via tele-health, and there are immediate openings available.