mental health

Mental Health Hotline Open to All Texans During Pandemic

The hotline launched at the end of March and has helped 3,000 Texans with no charge to them

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There's a new hotline open to Texans battling the secondary health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic: the strain on mental health.

The Texas Health and Human Services department is running the COVID-19 crisis hotline as an outlet for moments of crisis or just a listening ear.

"We hear you. It is normal for you to feel, however you're feeling right now. There is no right way to respond to the crisis, said director of access at the Harris Center, Jennifer Battle.

The Harris Center, a health authority in the Houston area, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission joined forces and provided the service to callers statewide March 31.

Since the launch, the state’s new mental health support line received nearly 3,000 calls from Texans in 130 counties who were experiencing fears of getting sick, feelings of isolation from social distancing and anxiety over a crashing economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's like all people, of all walks of life, no matter what your experiences, no matter where you are, the pandemic is affecting us all in the same ways," said hotline responder Chiara Jaranilla.

Since responders are trained in psychological first aid, they're able to teach valuable techniques like these "grounding" exercises, that can help bring callers back to the present moment, making them feel "grounded" again.

Most of the calls have come from Texans seeking emotional support.

The call takers also are trained to share coping mechanisms to help people with anxiety or panic attacks.

As the pandemic wears on, the question is how long will the state be able to support the hotline as a free resource?

"A crisis counseling grant through FEMA helps pay for the support line", said deputy executive commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services at Texas Health and Human Services Sonja Gaines.

The number is 833-986-1919. There is no charge and it's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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