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Local experts share advice, mental wellbeing resources

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During these difficult times in the midst of the changes and hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, local mental health experts want to emphasize that “it’s okay to not be okay.”

On Friday afternoon, nonprofit organization Bastrop County Cares hosted a virtual town hall meeting via Zoom titled “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.” The purpose of the meeting was to be an opportunity to hear others’ stories and learn about resources to maintain mental health. Krystal Grimes, a local mental health advocate and resilience expert who currently serves as the director of inclusion and resilience for Bastrop County Cares, said the meeting’s objectives included sharing strategies to promote and support mental wellbeing and to let people know that “it’s okay to not be okay.”

When COVID-19 arrived, Grimes said a group of mental health professionals from throughout the county came together to talk about the mental health trends that they were seeing with clients and families. These discussions led to Friday’s meeting.

Grimes then introduced each of the four panelists, who shared their own experiences and struggles during the pandemic to demonstrate that “professionals are not immune to mental health struggles.” The panelists’ stories covered issues such as worrying about family members in other parts of the country, trying to teach and take care of school-aged children and feeling anxiety due to an overwhelming amount of news and social media about the pandemic.

Next, the panelists presented talks on various topics.

First, Marcos Garcia, a peer service coordinator for Bluebonnet Trails and the Military Veteran Peer Network who focuses on helping veterans, spoke about basic strategies for continued wellbeing. He shared a list of five categories of needs that are necessary during these times: safety, sustenance, shelter, sleep and self-care. For example, safety can include face masks and other precautions against the virus, while sustenance includes healthy eating and drinking enough water during the hot weather. Self-care can be anything to “renew the smile on your face.”

Next, Deborah Hart Roberson, a licensed professional counselor and the owner of Thriveworks Coaching and Counseling, explained how to “navigate the maze” of finding a therapist. She explained the difference between various kinds of licensed counselors and other mental health professionals. Roberson shared a couple of places to start looking for therapists: www.psychologytoday.com/us and www.bastropcares.org/behavioral-mental-health. She added that insurance companies have made telehealth therapy sessions available during the pandemic, and many companies are waiving their copay for therapy sessions.

Finally, Norma Mercado, the homeless and foster care liaison at Bastrop ISD, spoke about the mental health challenges that affect youth. She pointed out that half of mental health conditions begin by the age of 14, and 75 percent begin by the age of 24. She said that COVID-19 can add to the normal stresses of school for teens. Signs of stress include irritability, change in behavior, trouble sleeping, neglecting responsibilities, changes in eating and increase in illness. To deal with the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that young people learn about COVID-19, find ways to relax, do enjoyable activities, keep a schedule, avoid alcohol and drugs and talk to a trusted person. Mercado also stressed the importance of looking for warning signs of suicidal thoughts and actions. She shared resources, such as Teen Line, available at teenlineonline.org.

The evening ended with an exercise to imagine inner strength with Kathleen Moore, a psychotherapist with Lone Star Circle of Care. Moore asked viewers to breathe and think about their inner strength to become calm and comforted. Next, she showed a word cloud and told viewers to choose a word, such as “abundance,” to focus on and remember.