HOUSTON - A PTSD pandemic. That's what city leaders are calling it, while we all try to deal with COVID-19. They're trying to help Houstonians adjust to this difficult time by rolling out a new program, which is now available to help put your mind at ease.
The Houston Health Department is teaming up with Mayor Sylvester Turner and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to launch the new effort, supporting mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program is called “Let’s Beat COVID-19: Health Education, and Support Services,” or HESS.
"I interact with Houstonians who are resilient and Houston strong, but you're seeing the wear and tear. People are being evicted. People are dealing with the issues of mortgage foreclosure, they're dealing now with children, either in school or out school, that's a lot of anguish. And I think one of the most important aspects of what they're dealing with is the lack of funds, a lack of resources," states Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Lee helped set aside federal dollars in the sum of more than $340,000 of CARES Act funding to focus on high positivity zip codes, parents dealing with virtual learning stressors, and city staff working on the frontlines of COVID-19.
Since Lee has established more than 30 COVID-19 testing sites in our area, she has personally witnessed how the disease is putting stress on families. That's why she wants a helpline to help families in need.
"We want this to be a place where someone lonely, someone with family, someone at work, someone driving along the highway, by simply making a phone call, they can find a counselor. By the way, that will stay on the line until that person feels as if they're being helped. I mean that's really the phenomenal aspect of what this is! This is not a situation where we've got five minutes and you're off the line, this is where we take hold of the person's condition, circumstances, and needs, and that counselor is there with them until they get that matter resolved, or get help for that person," states the Congresswoman.
As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to grow, so does anxiety and depression.
Dr. Janice Beal is the Program Administrator who is helping coordinate more than 20 mental health experts to answer the calls of those in need.
"So if you call the hotline right now, you will not only be talking to a counselor, a psychologist or I have a psychiatrist on call. It's a matter of just picking up the phone as well. And they will listen to what the issues you're dealing with. Then we make referrals, and then we make sure that you get to that referral. So that's what makes it unique, is the fact that we're not just a hotline answering the phone and just dealing with the initial situation, we're actually getting to that person or persons and what you're calling for," explains Dr. Beal.
Mayor Sylvester Turner is doing his part to encourage Houstonians to seek help, if they need it.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking mental help. If you break a leg, you seek help. If you break an arm, you seek help. If you have a problem with your heart, you get help. There's nothing wrong with seeking additional support for your mental stability," says Turner.
The free program will also offer virtual support groups, parenting toolkits, training, and other resources to help support mental and emotional needs.
"Obviously the helpline is going to be important. Wherever you might be safely, you can dial us on the telephone at 713-999-9442, and we'll be there from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., which is a very important timeframe. It's seven days a week, and it's going to be all the way up until December 24. We hope that you will take advantage of it without stigma, without any reflection on the individual. We just want them to get help," says Congresswoman Jackson Lee.