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BIG SPRING - Heading straight into a second round of COVID-19 with the more precarious and hostile variants has levied a cumbersome strain on an already overloaded health care system.


As dedicated health care teams confront the physical effects of COVID-19 and its aftermath, and other professionals work on preventive care (think vaccines, healthy living, etc.), still others are charged with an unmeasured tangent of COVID-19 - caring for our mental wellness.


“We have managed numerous effects from past health care concerns, but none like that in which we are facing with COVID-19,” West Texas Centers CEO Shelley Smith said.                           


“Never before have we been confronted with the mental effects of a physical illness as we have with COVID-19.”


The Licensed Master Social Worker said the effects run the gamut of families confronting the illnesses and deaths of loved ones to those who are scared, concerned, and frightened about contracting the disease.


“Everywhere you turn someone has an idea, an opinion, and most of the time it’s very strong and they aren’t to be persuaded,” Smith said. “The mental health effects are like nothing we have ever seen before.”


Smith and her dedicated staff who manage and operate the 15 mental health clinics in the rural West Texas Centers system have seen an influx in people looking for care or at least inquiring about care for themselves and their loved ones.


West Texas Centers operates a 24-hour hotline for people with any questions concerning mental health and/or services provided by West Texas Centers.


“There’s been a sharp uptick in the number of calls,” she said. “And we are very, very concerned. We are trying to get out the word that we have resources that can help all who have questions, and we are trying very hard to get that word out particularly during National Suicide Prevention Month.”


Many of the problems can fester and lead to severe depression and suicidal tendencies, Smith said.


Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone and often are the result of untreated mental health conditions. Thoughts of suicide should not be considered normal and often indicates serious issues, she said.


September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month - a time to raise awareness on suicide and educating the public on awareness and shifting public perception. 


“We want people and their friends and families to know that they have access to resources, including our mental health clinics, a team of mental health professionals and our 24-hour hotline.”


Close to half of the people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).


Warning signs of suicide include:


Increased alcohol and drug use

Aggressive behavior

Withdrawal from friends, family, and community

Dramatic mood swings

Impulsive or reckless behavior


Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency, according to NAMI. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911.


Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon

Giving away possessions

Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts

Saying goodbye to friends and family


“We are here to help,” Smith said of West Texas Centers. “Our Crisis Hotline is 1-800-375-4357.”


West Texas Centers serves the people of Andrews, Borden, Crane, Dawson, Fisher, Gaines, Garza, Glasscock, Howard, Kent, Loving, Martin, Mitchell, Nolan, Reeves, Runnels, Scurry, Terrell, Terry, Upton, Ward, Winkler and Yoakum counties.


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