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How to get help with mental illness in Houston

HOUSTON – The COVID-19 lockdown, the economic crash and the civil unrest of the last few months have left an increasing number of people feeling isolated, overwhelmed and, in some cases, suicidal. However, experts want you to know there is help available.

Angelina Hudson said she knows firsthand the struggle and the journey to get help. Long before the pandemic disrupted daily life, she struggled to cope with caring for her son Quentin, who was born severely autistic. Nineteen years ago, as a young mother, she felt hopeless and helpless.

“I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing,” Hudson said. “I felt responsible for my situation. I felt (like) I had brought it on myself, and I was isolated and family members didn’t understand.”

She said that at one point she considered suicide to escape a life she felt had spun out of control, but she found help through the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

NAMI provides support, education and referrals for people struggling to regain emotional balance.

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It changed Hudson’s life. Now, she works as NAMI’s local program director. Hudson said the stress, uncertainty and isolation caused by the coronavirus crisis have made it even more difficult for many people to cope than it was for her 19 years ago.

That is seen in the numbers. In January, before the pandemic took hold, NAMI logged just 186 responses by phone or email to people needing help. By July, the number had exploded to almost three thousand for the month.

“People are standing in line for food who’ve never had to ask for food before,” Hudson said. “People are getting notices about their mortgages that they’ve never received before. People are being laid off and actually coming down with corona, not being able to work or go back to work.”

“In this situation, depression and anxiety are the two big crises, and everyone’s got 'em,” said Dr. Neal Sarahan, director of NAMI.

The Harris Center for Mental Health is on the front line for crisis intervention. It operates a crisis hotline for people who are in danger of hurting themselves or others, and an information line for all things COVID-19. Both are in high demand.

“When you have COVID stress, on top of election stress, on top of civil unrest, it’s just a perfect storm of having people respond in a way that makes them feel scared and nervous for their own safety and welfare,” said Jennifer Battles, director of the Harris Center.

Suicide is a big concern. While the statistics are incomplete, hotline workers said those calls are up.

“This is not a COVID pandemic were dealing with now,” one hotline worker said. “This is a social pandemic, and, yes, it’s killing people.”

The great concern among these caring people is getting the word out that there is help available before stress, isolation and despair take over.

KPRC 2 wants to help with that. Below you will find contact information for both agencies and information on services provided.