Experts warn of impending mental health epidemic; there are things we can do

One year ago, on Sunday, March 8, 2020, I attended church service with my family, drove to MILO to have brunch, then went to Michael’s to pick up some crafting materials. With two little ones (then 5 months and 3 years old) along for the ride, it was no small decision to add two more stops to our outing. Looking back, I’m glad I braved the possibility of a nursing infant meltdown and toddler restlessness to see smiling faces at church, enjoy brunch, and pick up supplies. Little did I know that day would be my last in-person church service, Sunday brunch, and in-store shopping experience for a very long time.


In two weeks, our community will mark one year since our local shelter-in-place order. One year of hunkering down, wearing masks, travel restrictions, canceled parties, rescheduled family events, and modified birthday celebrations. For many of our neighbors, this past year has brought on much more than mere social inconveniences, but instead has meant financial, occupational, and family hardships like never before.


All of this change, not to mention the duration, can take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health. I’ve been checking in with colleagues, family, friends — and myself — to see how we’re doing. How we’re trudging along. It seems like many of us need a little more help, more support, and more grace these days. And our recent deep freeze hasn’t made this marathon of calamity any better. For many of our Waco neighbors February’s icy, snowy storm dealt yet another blow to a long haul of health concerns, economic uncertainty, lost income, social isolation, and all kinds of distress. Being in the dark, being in the cold, wanting for running water, and watching your groceries (bought with hard-earned wages) spoil right before your eyes has a way of layering on the pressure and testing our ability to cope.


These pressures can accumulate, and experts are warning of an impending mental health epidemic that could sweep across the country, but especially impact communities of color.


Last spring, we witnessed the disproportionate physical health impacts of COVID-19 in Black and Hispanic communities brought on by historical social and economic inequities. Changes in the way families interact, commune, socialize, celebrate, and mourn have aggravated existing traumas, brought on separation distress, grief issues, anxiety, and a host of other mental health challenges. But what can we do reduce the impact of this looming storm?


Check on your neighbors, family, and friends.


Use every safe communications channel at your disposal, including digital and traditional ways of engaging. Think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, What’s App video calls, and good old-fashioned land lines. A carside-to-front yard meet up (with masks in tow) is also a family favorite. Maintaining relationships and social connections is more important than ever to keep spirits high.


Tell your health provider what’s going on.


When we have back pain, we don’t hesitate to see a spine doctor or a physical therapist. The same should be true of emotional pain. Connect with a mental health provider or schedule an appointment with your family doctor to ask about more specialized support from a mental health practitioner, therapist, or counselor.


Talk with a trusted advisor.


Whether it’s a pastor, a community elder, a professional mentor, or in my case another mom of toddlers, extend an invitation to pray together, to share a devotion through FaceTime, or to have virtual coffee to talk and catch up. My hope is that the outpouring of grace, prayers, and encouragement flows both ways.


Call for immediate help.


The Heart of Texas Region MHMR is home to emergency counseling services for anyone impacted by the pandemic. MHMR is a huge local resource with a host of counseling and therapeutic services in addition to social support and wellness resources. Whether it’s a crisis or you simply need to talk to someone, MHMR is available to help.

MHMR Crisis Line 866-752-3451

MHMR COVID Help Line 866-576-1101


Advocate for better coverage of mental health care.


I’ve been on the search for mental health support and therapy for my family and me for several months. With my own health consumer hat on, navigating insurance coverage and which providers even accept my (really good) insurance, or accept insurance at all, has been both surprising and disappointing. We need collective advocacy to demand better. Better payor coverage of mental health services and better acceptance of insurance by mental health providers. There is undoubtedly a need – a market – for mental health care, and marketplace vendors (practitioners and payors) should better respond to consumer needs.


A year ago, I wrote a post about minding your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to believe that we’re still riding out this storm 11 months later and my hunch is that this ride of ours isn’t over yet. Our resilience has been tested, tried, and tested again, but we’re in this together to support our neighbors when they need us and to lean on our neighbors when we need them.

Tiffiney Gray was senior content specialist for health with Prosper Waco when this blog posted.