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Austin experts talk holidays and impact on mental health

The holidays can be hard on a lot of people. We don't have to struggle alone. KVUE hosted a roundtable discussion with Integral Care about mental health.

AUSTIN, Texas — The holidays can be tough on a lot of people. However, it's important to know we don't have to struggle alone. KVUE's Molly Oak talked about mental health with Integral Care's Marisa Aguilar Malik, Practice Administrator of Crisis Services, David West, Associate Director of Integrated Systems of Care, and Catherina Conte, Practice Administrator for Specialty Substance Use Treatment Services. 

What have you all seen and experienced? It's just been a really hard couple of years for us.

I think that the way that you're asking that question is so important because, you know, it really is about what we have all seen and experienced. And so we've recognized, you know, that there is this collective experience that's that happened for us over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic starting in 2020. And I think we had a period where we thought that that would be something that we just made it to the other side of, right? We thought that this would be an experience that we shared and navigated together, and 2021 was going to be better. We knew that. We believed it. And 2021 came around, and it was a challenge. And so I think what we've seen is that the conditions for complex trauma have existed. And one way to define that would be multiple and varied kind of exposures to trauma over a prolonged period of time. And so I think as a society, we've watched that play out over time, and we've experienced that and that has taken a toll on people's mental health.

Let's talk about the increase in overdoses over the past year. It's not only drugs. There are other substances involved as well.

Recent data came out that in a 12-month time period, over 100,000 lives were lost to overdose, which is actually a 30% increase from the previous year. And it's the highest increase that we've ever seen specifically in our community, as well. We've seen an increase in overdoses with over 500 overdoses identified. So absolutely, this is something that is impacting people. And the impact of this ongoing trauma has been significant. Folks are turning to substances to address and deal and cope with just the challenges and the stress that we've all experienced these last two years that David was talking about. So there are definitely a lot of folks who are hurting out in our community.

Attempts at death by suicide also, unfortunately, increased over the past year.

Yes, attempts have been on the rise. Individuals reporting thoughts of suicide have also been on the rise. We've seen nationally a increase in suicide attempts, suicide ideations despite a slight decrease in completed suicides. What we're also learning more about are there are specific populations that are at higher risk. Specifically through the pandemic, we've seen a 40% increase in suicide attempts by adolescent girls. Other populations that we're seeing higher rates of suicide attempts include individuals of minority groups, racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as health care providers. So a lot of what we're seeing through the pandemic has increased. Along with what David and Cat were saying, increased rates of depression, increased rates of anxiety, and I think that's a result of the pandemic that we're also in and have been in for the last two years.

How can we not only help others but also help ourselves?

I think it all starts with us stopping to create some space for ourselves to understand all that we've been through. I think sometimes we can overcomplicate some of the solutions at times, and I think it's really important for us to be simple in terms of how do we take care of ourselves and what kind of strategies are going to work to help us improve. But it all starts with talking, right? This is how we kind of move forward with any of the challenges that we're facing. So at first, we have to acknowledge the challenges within ourselves and then we have to talk to someone.

Integral Care has a 24/7 Helpline. Have you all seen an increase in calls or different types of callers?

We've definitely seen an increase in calls, individuals seeking out services. I think some some of the good things that we have seen come through the pandemic is that people are reaching out for help and there has been opportunities to reduce stigma related to mental health and opening up these conversations and really normalizing that mental health is an essential part of our overall health and our overall well-being. And it's a crucial component. A lot of times we focus on just physical health and being comfortable talking about that, and we've been able to kind of highlight with the struggles that people have been experiencing that there is a need to open up these conversations. And it is okay to not be okay and reach out and talk to somebody.

How do you go about starting a conversation with someone you may be worried about?

I think one of the first steps is just to be direct. I think really when we talk about that, we're normalizing. What is that about? And that's about kind of acting normal about it, right? And understanding that we don't have to be all that calculated or planned in our response to people at times, especially in our in our personal lives and in our day to day lives when we're trying to reach out to a loved one.

You can always acknowledge any differences in behaviors or things that you've noticed with your loved one to kind of show that you are wanting to engage in any type of conversation. And I think sometimes people want to have a conversation, but they don't know if the other person is going to be able to receive that information. So just saying, 'Hey, I noticed that you haven't been coming around or answering my phone calls as much, I just want to make sure you're doing OK.' And that really can provide an opportunity to open up those conversations. But also knowing that people might not be comfortable talking to their loved ones. And so there are community resources that you can reach out to if you feel more comfortable talking with someone that's not a family member or friend through something that you're working with.

What are steps people can take if they're not ready to open up?

I think it's important for people to just create space within themselves to acknowledge that I feel a certain way that I have certain concerns and to kind of prepare and plan for having that conversation.

Anything else you all would like to add?

I think during the holidays there's we're in this time of year where we have this idea of how we should feel. That's a word that I think we have to be really careful with when we any time as clinicians, when we hear that word "should," we stop for a second and we think about that, right? Because there's an expectation there. And oftentimes that's not going to line up with how we're actually feeling. And so I think it's really important for us to to think about that and to recognize that how we feel may not line up with how we think we should feel. And that is that's OK. You know, that's normal. The best way to navigate that is to talk about it.

I'd like to share within the context of somebody that might be struggling with their substance use is that recovery is absolutely possible and that there are resources and services that we offer at Integral Care to support, again, persons that are maybe recognizing that their their alcohol use has shifted over the last few months because of the ongoing stress and just challenges, again, like we've all faced. Integral Care has a number of outpatient services to provide support to somebody that might want some additional support on addressing their substance use needs, including counseling, case management, certain types of medication to be able to support somebody if they have an opioid use disorder. Recovery is is absolutely possible.

I would just like to add Integral Care has a 24-7 crisis hotline that our community can access any time they're needing any type of emotional support or identifying any resources that they might need, whether that be our agency or community resources. And that number is 512-472-4357. We also have a psychiatric urgent walk in clinic for people who want to walk in and receive services. And those services are available to really provide support through any anything, any issue someone is going through and get them connected to any services that they might need.

For a full list of resources, click here


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