Organization works to provide mental health care to underserved children suffering loss from pandemic

HOUSTON – May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the pandemic took a major toll on communities across the country.

Now, as the weight of the crisis appears to be lifting, experts are also anticipating a long-term impact on people’s mental health, specifically children.

Efforts are underway to provide resources to some of the most underserved neighborhoods across our area.

Karleerose Lopez is 8 years old, but she is already learned one of the hardest lessons in life -- death.

“Why did he have to go,” she asked. “When I look at his ashes or his pictures, that’s when I have my bad days.”

The second grader’s father, Danny Lopez, a former Galena Park police officer and engineer, died earlier this year of COVID-19.

Lopez was a father of seven.

“I just miss everything about him,” said his 18-year-old daughter, Marissa Lopez. “He’s not going to be there when I get married or have a boyfriend something.”

His children, who range in age from eight to 29 are struggling and they cannot find affordable mental health care.

“I need somebody to say, ‘Your husband died of COVID, take your girls and your family and your boys to this long-term facility or doctor or counselor and they will be OK,’” said Lopez’s wife and the children’s mother, Sabrina Lopez. “The counseling I found is $100- $125, times eight of us that need help and that’s a lot of money.”

The Lopez family is one of many families who are having a hard time finding accessible and affordable mental healthcare after losing a loved one to COVID-19.

“I have been a licensed funeral director for 35 years, never thought I would see something like this in my life,” said Gregory Compean, the owner of Compean Funeral Home in southeast Houston.

The Houston Health Department identified the surrounding community around Compean’s funeral home as one of the most high-risk areas for COVID, which is mostly a Hispanic community.

“We were seeing between 80 and 100 families a month,” Compean said referring to the number of funerals. “The after effect that COVID has had on the survivors, especially the young kids that no longer have their parents, brothers, sisters and the strain that it has put on their families.”

According to the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a Texas-based non-profit aimed at improving the availability of mental healthcare, the pandemic has taken four times as many working-age Latino Texans and nearly 50% more African American children have lost a parent to COVID than other children.

“What we are seeing is this is happening more and more in our underserved communities often these are communities of color and it’s often difficult to access the mental health care that they need,” said Dr. Julie Kaplow the executive director of the Trauma and Grief Center at the Hackett Center which is Meadows first regional center which focuses on the greater Houston area and Texas Gulf Coast.

“If kids remain untreated and are suffering in their grief, oftentimes it can lead to issues like school drop-outs, school truancy, poor school grades,” said Dr. Kaplow.

There is also a higher risk for depression, substance abuse and suicide.

Kaplow and her team are providing training to school-based clinicians to empower them to provide treatment for trauma and grief.

“With school personnel, training them to identify what it looks like if a child is traumatized,” Kaplow said. “What does that look like in a classroom, or how do you handle it if a child is coming back to the classroom after having experienced a death, how do you handle it with the other kids in the class?”

Dr. Kaplow also oversees clinical services that provide trauma and grief services free of charge.

“I don’t want to get sick. I want to stay home and be homeschooled,” Karleerose told KPRC 2.

KPRC 2 put the Lopez family in touch with the Trauma and Grief Center at the Hackett Center and they plan to use their services.

If you would like to get more information about these free services there is more information click here.

The organization offers these services to people ages 8-21.