Since the emergence of COVID-19, mental health providers have seen an increase in anxiety and depression across the board.
Stephanie Moses, M.D., mental health clinician and founder and director of the Mental Health Fellowship for Primary Care, said a lot of attention has been focused on school-aged children.
“So we know for sure that there has been a significant impact there. Also … there is an impact on the older population, but my guess is it’s across the board. It’s hitting young people, middle-aged people. I think it’s very widespread,” said Moses.
She added that this was an aftermath of COVID.
“At first there was a lot of anxiety and fear, but it felt like people were coming together to help, especially in our country. We are definitely seeing the effects of the pandemic,” Moses said.
Most patients experience depression and anxiety. However, the most common thread in the Permian Basin, even pre-pandemic, is finances due to the ups and downs of the oil fields.
“This is definitely because oil prices have fallen within the last week or two, people are stressed…” Moses said in a Dec. 20 interview. “But also … come September/October, generally speaking, … as we enter the holiday season, people start to feel the onset of symptoms or they get worse,” Moses said.
“Now we hear about families on vacation and family stress. But ultimately, finances remain a consistent stressor for many.”
Another stressor is medical care due to the triple demic of COVID, RSV and influenza.
“People and parents are very concerned about it. Those are probably the most major themes,” she said.
She added that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes, and that it’s important to know that you don’t have to force yourself through everything.
No need to suffer in silence, she said. Tell a trusted friend or someone like your doctor what’s going on and if you’re not feeling well. If symptoms persist for more than 7-10 days, if symptoms do not improve and interfere with daily life, please see a doctor.
She added that it’s important to stay away from the news and social media and do things that bring you peace and joy, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day that allows you to relax.
“One of the most annoying things for many people during the holiday season is socializing, but being social around trusted loved ones is also one of the greatest defenses against developing depression. So if you get social and have people in your life that you trust and enjoy their company, you can start eliminating that risk.
“Nowadays it is also very important to watch your substance intake. Many people increase their alcohol intake during the holidays because of all the festivities during the holidays. Alcohol has depressive effects. , can affect mood, and for many people[it]causes more anxiety. There is this kind of kickback or rebound effect, which increases anxiety.”
Sleep is also very important.
“Getting enough and appropriate amounts of sleep at this time, staying hydrated – the normal things our bodies need to function optimally – our diet, sleep, water intake, etc. , is something that tends to dissipate quite a bit during the holidays.. I think it really helps me manage more stress, whatever it is,” she added.
There has been a nationwide shortage of mental health providers for perhaps the last seven to ten years.
“But our areas are very underserved, some of which serve not only the Midlands and Odessa, but also a great many rural communities around them. With no clinicians and reliance on health care providers in Midland and Odessa for services, our region is in severe shortage,” said Moses.
The usual waiting time to start treatment is 8 to 12 weeks. In some cases, treatment can take longer, up to six months for psychiatric services for medication.
“This is a dire situation, and one of the reasons I created the fellowship program was to help us get more of the workforce. We wanted to find local learners who wanted to learn mental health, and once licensed, we could educate them to provide quality service. That’s the initiative. They take time,” said Moses.
“You have to beat them as an undergraduate, and going through the whole process from undergraduate to licensed professional can take at least six years. can take up to 10 years,” she added.
On the bright side, Moses said her program has been successful in recruiting future psychologists and licensed professional counselors.
“It’s not as dire as you might imagine. For example, the University of Texas Permian Basin has an undergraduate psychology program that currently enrolls about 1,000 learners, and it also has a master’s degree in psychology program.” So there are resources that can come through the pipeline,” Moses said.
She added that Alpine’s Sul Ross State University has a master’s degree in psychology, as does West Texas A&M University.
“Here’s the program. I don’t know what it’s like or what it’s going to be like when we do work and have learners who are interested in psychology or medicine and what that work looks like. If you educate them, I think you’ll find that more people will be attracted to it,” Moses added.
The grow our own project started about three years ago when she started recruiting people for fellowships.
“We are focused on recruiting from UTPB and Texas Tech University, and obviously West Texas A&M and San Angelo State University. We also have an online master’s program in psychology, and we’ve had a lot of success recruiting from, and it’s a small number of people going through the pipeline, and I think once we have a steady stream, we’ll be able to increase that number. said Moses.
Most providers in this field are professional counselors with master’s-level degrees in psychology.
“You can get a master’s-level license and practice independently as a licensed professional counselor,” she said.
Moses’ primary concern is the health, postpartum, and mental health of women of color. She has been in Health Sciences at Texas Tech University for almost her 15 years.
She was in the Odessa office, practicing in the department of primary care, family and community medicine.
“I just recently left my clinical practice. I think I stopped practicing in August, but now I’m just teaching my fellows because that means having an active clientele of my own,” Moses said.
“I am also a clinical programming consultant at Permian Basin Behavioral Health Hospital. And I am deeply involved in the services that the clinic building provides.I’ve been doing it since about mid-September, so it’s been a lot of fun.”