Mental health concerns increase along with COVID numbers; help is available

Published 12:34 am Tuesday, December 28, 2021

As COVID numbers begin to climb once again, it’s not just the number of people suffering from physical illness that’s become concerning.

The need for mental health support is rising as well.

“We just ran our data for the past year, and as we begin to look at it, we actually saw a 50 percent increase in clients calling for services this past year,” said Robin McCutcheon, executive director of Samaritan Counseling Center of Southeast Texas. “And that continues, even today. We have new clients this week.”

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The Port Arthur-based center offers a variety of services, which include counseling and mental health first aid — an 8-hour course aimed at teaching people how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

McCutchen said even their staff has realized potential setbacks, moving an upcoming retreat back to a virtual meeting.

The Port Arthur Health Department last week put out a statement regarding “rising positive COVID cases for Port Arthur and Mid County,” which Health Director Judith Smith said is likely due to the omicron variant.

And today (Dec.28), department officials along with Port Arthur ISD and Port Arthur LNG will host an event from 5-8 p.m. at the TAMS Vaccination Clinic to address the facts and myths regarding COVID vaccinations for children.

But, McCutchen said, COVID has shown no bias. Often times people who have been fully vaccinated and isolate catch the virus, while those who are unvaccinated and out-and-about remain healthy.

That, along with the fear of becoming a carrier, is also causing anxiety in some.

“There’s this hypervigilence of, ‘I thought I was OK to go to the grocery store,’” she said. “And people have such a fear of, ‘if I have the infection am I going to infect my family or friends?’ The guilt in that has become a real feeling around people who do catch the infection.”

McCutcheon said while working with clients now, they try to ensure people remain mindful but also find ways to create joy in their life. Those who opt to quarantine are encouraged to pick up a phone and call or video chat with friends and family to maintain human connection. They’re also asked to get outside — whether to take a walk or just sit on their porch — to avoid total isolation.

“I talk a walk in the mornings outside,” she said. “I take a walk in the afternoons. We have a therapy dog for our staff so we take him for a walk. Moving around and not being sedentary is helpful.”

Samaritan Counseling Center also offers virtual sessions for those that would rather avoid person-to-person interaction.

And the Texas Department of Health and Human Services in March opened a COVID Mental Health Support Line that remains in operation. The 24/7 hotline can be reached by calling 833-986-1919.

According to information from the Texas Tribune, the hotline has had a 20 percent increase in calls just this month.

Samaritan Counseling Services is located at 7980 Anchor Drive in Port Arthur, and can be reached by calling 409-727-6400.