The North Texas Behavioral Health Authority is reporting an uptick in the number of individuals seeking help for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder due to the coronavirus pandemic.

An upheaval of this magnitude is unprecedented, which makes emotional distress more difficult to manage, NTBHA Chief Clinical Officer Jessica Martinez said.

“The mental health and psychological toll this has placed on Americans is greater than what we’ve seen in the past with other disasters,” she said.

Data from the authority’s crisis hotline, which launched in Harris County but has since been picked up statewide, shows that Dallas County residents averaged 50 calls per week between March 31 and June 7. The 503 total calls originating in Dallas County are second only to Harris County, where 702 calls have been placed since late March.

The psychological toll of the virus is affecting people across various age groups and demographics, Martinez said. Some examples include children and adolescents who are missing out on social interaction, parents who are overwhelmed by balancing work with helping their children navigate e-learning, and homeless individuals who were displaced from shelters due to the virus.

“Each group internalizes or processes [trauma] differently,” she said.

The pandemic has been especially taxing for seniors, whose loneliness is compounded by county orders that call for self-isolation, Martinez said.

“During that later stage of life, ... you’re already going through despair,” she said. “And then, we [add] the fact that they are not able to have social interactions with family members and loved ones, so we’ve seen an increase in geriatric individuals accessing services as well.”

Young adults ages 19-25 are not as likely to use the hotline, but they have reached out to the authority asking to be connected with other resources and services, such as crisis counseling.

“Their life of what they thought was going to be—entering the workforce and getting a job—has kind of been stopped,” she said.

The authority has also provided therapy to first responders, who Martinez said are having a difficult time balancing their own needs with the responsibility of caring for others.

“They’re not only worried about the patient they’re taking care of. ... They’re worried about themselves and taking it home,” she said.

One of the driving forces behind panic experienced during this time is the mixed messages by elected officials and other leaders, Martinez said. Consistency in rules and guidelines across counties would go a long way in helping people manage their stress, she said.

“When you get to the point of fear, people just need wisdom,” she said. “They need to have information to be able to make an educated response.”

Suicide rates were on the rise prior to the pandemic but could continue to increase because of it, according to Cammy Hazim, Southeast Texas area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The behavioral authority and other state agencies have increased funding for suicide awareness to prepare for this reality, Martinez said.

“What COVID did was exacerbate symptoms and make individuals aware that maybe this is something more than just the blues or anxiety,” she said. “When individuals cannot control [those symptoms], it increases all the risk factors.”

As some semblance of normalcy returns to everyday life, Martinez said the authority is focused on making sure individuals not only have access to care but are also armed with information to help them cope.

“We don’t know the long-term, so the only thing we can do is prepare for what we can anticipate,” she said.

Martinez encouraged individuals to take advantage of the free-of-charge resources and services offered by the authority, which include counseling and substance abuse services. Texas residents can call the 24/7 COVID-19 support hotline at 833-251-7544.

“We understand that this is something that is scary and fearful,” she said. “This is the time that behavioral health [authorities] step up. It may be new to you, but it’s not new to us.”

Danica Smithwick contributed to this report