The recent series of bombings that terrorized Central Texas have left many people feeling anxious and even traumatized, say Austin mental health professionals. It’s important to seek help navigating these feelings, but between the stigma of mental illness and the cost of seeking help, many Central Texans may never confront their emotions. In response, nonprofits in Central Texas have stepped up their crisis support counseling and outreach to some of those most vulnerable, most of it for free.
“The series of school shootings had been traumatic for all of us,” said Mary Dickerson, executive director of The Austin Center for Grief and Loss, “but the bombings really hit home. It’s all taking its toll.”
Dickerson said almost no one was untouched by the anxiety caused by the bombings, with African-Americans wondering if they were being targeted, delivery drivers anxious about packages, parents not knowing what to tell their children, and even journalists stressed by the stories and urgency. In fact, among other offerings, the Austin Center for Grief and Loss is planning a free interactive workshop to help media professionals cope with and manage stress and grief associated with job related trauma. A date has yet to be finalized. “As a reporter, you’re subjected to so much secondary trauma,” Dickerson said. “We just want to be offer some tips and skills one might employ to help.”
The Center offers anyone individual and group therapy sessions for free or on a sliding scale, and also provides group services. In fact, it was recently contacted by a local business that had lost an employee to suicide. “A death affects everybody, but what it triggers in you and me is different,” said Dickerson.
Austin Integral Care, another mental health nonprofit, was called in by the community around East Austin College Prep, the school attended by 17-year-old Draylen Mason, one of the bombing victims. Laura Hernandez Gold, the prevention services program manager, says Integral Care, along with YWCA Austin, sent staff from its mobile crisis outreach team for two weeks, “to provide crisis support and just listen and be there in the moment for them.” She also invites the public to attend its recently expanded and free mental health first aid class, to teach people how to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis or showing signs of mental illness.
“We have to remember that anytime a traumatic event like this occurs, it’s going to affect our mental health,” said Gold. She encourages anyone to access Integral Care’s 24-hour hotline, seven days a week – 512-472-HELP (4375). “They can call, talk to someone who’s going to validate their feelings, and provide them with community resources they need.”
This past week, YWCA Austin offered two free group therapy sessions to the community and will change the topic of its monthly dialogue meeting on March 30 to address how the tragedy has affected the community as a whole. All of its services are also available in Spanish. YWCA is a nonprofit focused on racism, women’s empowerment, and social justice, and it, like other nonprofits, relies on donations from the public to serve the community with free services. “There’s very little in terms of preventable mental health services to the public that are affordable for the community at large,” said Angela-Jo Touza-Medina, executive director of YWCA. “What we charge for our services can be cheaper than an insurance co-pay.”
PHOTO: YWCA hosts monthly dialogues, inviting everyone in the community to discuss topics of social justice, discrimination, and other topics.
NOTE: A version of this article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, March 25, 2018.