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Local doctor's advice on how to make your mental health a priority

Burnout, depression and anxiety are among the top reasons more people are looking for help from mental health professionals.

AUSTIN, Texas — According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association, burnout, depression and anxiety are among the top reasons more people are looking for help from mental health professionals in the U.S., and Texas is no exception. 

Dr. Alfonso Mercado, a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, joined KVUE to discuss.

Are more people struggling with mental health issues or is it just that more people are now looking for professional help?

Absolutely. Mental health has been another pandemic that not a lot of attention has been given to. Yes, we are going through a COVID-19 pandemic, but we're going through multiple pandemics, and one of them is that of mental health. The pandemic has exacerbated symptoms of depression, anxiety and has also triggered mental health symptoms. It's really concerning because of the lack of mental health resources in some communities in our Lone Star State.

Let's talk about more the pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic. How has that affected people psychologically?

Well, one thing that the pandemic did bring was it unmasked the health care disparities that exist in our country, in Texas as well. In addition to the disproportionate rate that COVID-19 had with people of color, access to care issues, in addition to the many things that COVID-19 brought, such as the financial stressors, the loss of jobs quarantining at home, many communities couldn't quarantine at home and they had to work. For example, the immigrant population is one group that was not able to benefit from the CARES Act and many other benefits that many U.S. citizens did. So that's one of the reasons why those communities got COVID-19 at a much higher rate.

You mentioned access to care, which is a really important topic according to the American Psychological Association. We are facing a crisis when it comes to mental health now. How bad is it?

Absolutely. We are definitely going through a mental health crisis, another pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately, the state of Texas, we rank last in mental health funding for different programing in our communities. A lot of underserved areas, rural, rural areas in the state of Texas have been affected tremendously, and there's a long waitlist. Many of my colleagues in the field – psychologists, social workers, therapists, counselors – they have a waitlist. Community mental health clinics have a waitlist because of this dire need that we're currently living.

We talked earlier about more and more people trying to get care. How does a person know when it's time for them to seek help, mental help?

That is a great question. Once the depression symptoms, the anxiety symptoms start affecting your day-to-day living, you know, when you're unable to sleep, unable to eat properly, when the symptoms start affecting your personal relationships, your productivity at work, you know, that is very concerning. Treatment is available and treatment works. But again, there is this is a concern of that, you know, access to care issue that we have right now, given the increase in symptoms of mental health in our communities.

Finally, there might be somebody watching this right now that say, "Maybe it's time for me to seek help." And some people might not know what to do. They might not have any idea where to go or what to do. What would your advice be to someone like that?

I think what's very important is to see what kind of support system that person has – family members, friends or peer groups. You know, resorting to that social circle is so important right now. Also, looking at the availability of treatment programs in the community, even now there is a waitlist with many clinics contacting the local community, mental health centers, local crisis centers too that are available 24 hours a day. Knowing where to call and who to call is very important. As I mentioned earlier, treatment is available. It helps and hopefully the person gets the help that they need.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can use the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. Anyone who calls or texts 988 will be connected to trained counselors who can provide support and connect callers with resources.

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