By Elizabeth Lenart | Contributor
Founded in 1979, The Counseling Place, a Richardson-based 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides professional and affordable (or free) mental health services, is seeing triple the number of referrals for suicide and assault, and domestic violence has increased by 30 percent. Additionally, anxiety among children and teens, frontline workers, and the elderly is rapidly increasing.
“We are very concerned about everything we are seeing,” said Deborah Dobbs, executive director, The Counseling Place, who has been with The Counseling Place for 23 years, serving as executive director for the past ten years. “In addition to the increase in suicides, assault, and domestic violence, we are also worried about those who are grieving and being denied access to social support networks; the elderly whose routines and human connections have been disrupted; and the children and teens who are isolated from friends and may live in households with volatile relationships that can quickly turn abusive and violent.”
FREE CHECK-IN SERVICE
The Counseling Place is adapting its services to meet the demands and address new challenges resulting from COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, The Counseling Place launched a free and confidential “Check-In” service for all nonprofit frontline workers, law enforcement officers, 911 operators, and medical professionals. It is not therapy, and there is no paperwork. It is a way to connect with a human trained in mental health.
“There is a perception that victim advocates, police, and nurses are supposed to be some sort of heroic warrior, not affected by human sufferings – but it’s impossible not to be affected by something like COVID-19,” said Dobbs.
Through this service initiated with a text, individuals can sign up for a time to check in with someone for a 15-minute phone conversation to debrief and go over self-care strategies. Text “FIRSTS” to 51555 to schedule or set up online at https://counselingplace.org/covid19-support-line.
Helping the helpers is an important focus at The Counseling Place, which provides specialized counseling services for first responders. This effort increased after the 2019 Dallas area tornadoes, and The Counseling Place launched self-care groups for front-line responders in nonprofit agencies.
“It’s critical to help the helpers, and additional funding enables us to expand this service. We must continue to come up with innovative ways to help those affected by this pandemic,” stated Dobbs.
HELPING TWEENS & TEENS
In addition, to help the younger generation, The Counseling Place began offering its Project Positive program, a social emotional learning course ideal for tweens and teens, online. While it is not considered counseling, this five-week course offers middle school and high school kids one-on-one time with a facilitator to explore ways to manage stress that is unique to their neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to adapt and change. During COVID-19, payment for this program is based on a parent’s ability to pay.
“Every day we hear that teens are missing graduation and prom, but there is a much deeper issue than missing important milestones,” said Dobbs. “COVID-19 is sabotaging the natural period during which teens begin to separate from their parents and gain independence, an important part of development.” Additionally, Dobbs notes that because they are accustomed to using technology, it leads parents to believe they are doing fine, but in fact not only are they missing interacting with peers, their online immersion makes them more vulnerable to misinformation as well as an overload of negative news. Many teens lack the coping skills for this and may resort to substance abuse or other unhealthy coping tactics.
HURDLES FOR THE ELDERLY AND VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Unfortunately, technology has proven to be difficult for some elderly to navigate and not an option for many domestic violence victims. The pandemic has confined domestic violence victims with their abusive partners who closely monitor their communication efforts and can disrupt their access to support.
“We fear for the safety of domestic violence victims and for that of children in homes where tensions are high due to unemployment, emotional exhaustion, and anxiety,” added Dobbs. “Current conditions, especially if alcohol is abused, often increase impulsivity, symptoms of depression, and can cause people to lose tempers more easily and become destructive toward relationships.”
In addition, Dobbs says confinement with no clear end in sight challenges nearly everyone’s coping skills. “People who were recovering from trauma may have their progress thwarted by these circumstances. The psycho-social impact of COVID-19 is pervasive, powerful and should not be underestimated. Our mental health determines how we respond and adjust.”
AFFORDABLE AND EFFECTIVE MENTAL HEALTH HELP
The Counseling Place began all services via telehealth or phone at the start of the pandemic. These services include individual therapy and psychoeducational courses for adults and for children as young as 8 years old. For those younger than 8, parent consults are available – all based on a sliding scale which in some cases is cost-free. Dobbs advises people to be proactive with their mental health and to continue with or seek mental health treatment even if they cannot do so in person. “A therapist is like a personal trainer for brain fitness,” she says.
In 2019 The Counseling Place provided individual and family counseling to 555 new clients; served 226 children and teens from all over the DFW area through its psychoeducation groups; and provided victims’ assistance services to over 1,600 people throughout the metroplex – extraordinary numbers when you consider the frequency and longevity of the services each client receives. The demand exceeds the agency’s capacity to serve.
“It’s no secret that America has critical shortage of affordable mental health services, and this predates the pandemic,” added Dobbs. “It’s absolutely devastating when we have to turn people away who have mustered the courage to seek assistance, fighting a widespread mental health stigma.”
According to a 2020 Pre-COVID-19 Mental Health America (MHA) annual State of Mental Health Report, which ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on several mental health and access measures, over 45 million Americans – almost 20% – are experiencing a mental illness; over 10.3 million adults have serious thoughts of suicide in the United States – an increase of nearly 450,000 people from last year’s data set; and 57 percent of adults with a mental illness receive no treatment.
A recent study by Qualtrics identifies the severity of the global mental health crisis since COVID-19. Results show that 67% of people are reporting higher levels of stress since the outbreak of COVID-19; 57% say they have greater anxiety since the outbreak; 54% say they are more emotionally exhausted; 53% say they feel sadness day-to-day; 50% feel they are more irritable; and 42% report their overall mental health has declined.
“Affordable mental health services are scarce,” says Dobbs. “Over the last few years, The Counseling Place has attempted to fill the gap while managing existing significant increases in referrals due to suicide and attempted suicide, as much as 30 percent per year.” Dobbs urges the community to be extra attentive to those who show warning signs of depression and encourages anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, to seek help as needed.
For more information, call The Counseling Place at 469-283-0340 or visit counselingplace.org.
The Counseling Place (The CP), established in 1979 as the first nonprofit mental health agency in Richardson, Texas, is dedicated to building, repairing, and strengthening emotional health for people of all ages and income levels in the Dallas area. The CP provides professional and affordable (or free) counseling services to individuals, families, and couples in need of outpatient mental health services; psychoeducational community courses; and a victims’ assistance program through formal contracts with the Richardson and Sachse Police Departments as well as for crime victims referred by any jurisdiction. The CP also collaborates with other nonprofits to provide mental health services to their clients, including Heart of Autism, to help affected families. Call 469-283-0340 or visit https://counselingplace.org/