Video and highlights from “5 Slides: Mental Health in a Time of COVID in Texas”

Experts continues to warn that the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic downturn have had deleterious impacts on mental health.

With people suffering from mental health challenges due to isolation and financial stress, policymakers, community leaders, and ordinary citizens alike have been forced to grapple with what some are calling a “secondary pandemic” of mental health and substance abuse concerns.



To dig into this issue in Texas, one of the hardest hit states by the pandemic, State of Reform hosted two leaders in this arena for a virtual discussion. Titled “5 Slides: Mental Health in a Time of COVID in Texas,” the discussion featured Sonja Gaines, Deputy Executive Commissioner for Intellectual and Developmental Disability and Behavioral Health Services at HHSC, and Bonnie Cook, President & CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Dallas.

The first slide, offered by the State of Reform team, highlighted a recent study conducted by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute which looked at the projected increase in drug overdose-related deaths per year with increases in the unemployment rate in Texas. The results indicated an increase of almost 100 drug overdose-related deaths for every one percent uptick in unemployment

With these findings in mind, Cook was asked to what extent she saw the economy impacting mental health in the greater Dallas area.

I think we are seeing a direct connection. Especially with alcohol and drug addiction, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in the use of alcohol and drugs to manage unemployment and the stressful situation,” said Cook. “If we go back to our college days and think about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and we think about that basic need for safety, food, and security, all of this doesn’t live in a vacuum…they are all so interconnected. These statistics and this information we share, we all realize there’s a person behind these numbers. We’re going to have to turn around and start thinking outside the box about how we’re going to provide this support.”

Gaines brought to the discussion a slide which gave an overview the HHSC’s Behavioral Health Response to COVID-19. Gaines said she was grateful that Texas already had a fairly strong infrastructure in place for responding to crisis and disasters.

During COVID-19 HHSC was able to tap into that infrastructure and get services on the ground fairly quickly, said Gaines. These services included a 24 hour mental health support line staffed by mental health professionals and virtual support groups for front-line workers.

HHSC has also compiled data on the specific reasons people have been utilizing the support line.

About 55 percent of the people calling are calling to get emotional support and figure out ways of coping. About 21 percent are looking for testing or medical information,” said Gaines. “And then about 12 percent are calling for mental health support.  This line is also capable of referring individuals to the appropriate resources so people can get ongoing health and support…about 35 percent of the callers are between the ages of 18 and 39. Thirty-two percent of the callers are between the ages of 40 and 64. About 11 percent are 65 and older.”

To hear about the other slides discussed in the conversation, including screening data, reactions and behavioral symptoms in disasters, and the panelists’ reaction to a host of audience questions, view the full video here.