In the midst of a nationwide opioid and suicide crisis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several behavioral health care treatment facilities have opened in The Woodlands area this year to fill the gap in local mental health and substance abuse resources.

From 1999-2016, the CDC reported that suicide rates across the U.S. increased in every state with the exception of Nevada, which experienced a 1 percent decrease. In that time, suicide rates in Texas rose by 18.9 percent.

At the same time, in 2016 alone, opioid abuse claimed nearly 40,000 lives in the U.S., according to the CDC, 1,500 of which occurred in Texas.

“I’ve been a practicing mental health care provider for 30 years now, and it’s very clear that one of the contributors to the suicide increase has been the 200-300 time increase in the prescribing and the consumption of opioid-related drugs,” said Vaughn Bryant, Lakeview Health at The Woodlands clinical director. “A lot of what are categorized as overdoses are actually suicides; they just didn’t leave a note.”

Increasing accessibility

Lakeview Health, based in Jacksonville, Florida, opened its first satellite location in The Woodlands in January. The treatment facility offers a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program for patients with substance abuse disorder as well as co-occurring psychiatric disorders, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We chose The Woodlands for our first satellite location because we recognized that people here really want to live a more fulfilling life free from any kind of barriers psychologically or with substance abuse,” Bryant said. “We looked at sites down in the Houston area, but there’s just such a huge population growth and a very strong health care presence in The Woodlands.”

The Hambrick Center for Counseling & Biofeedback also opened in The Woodlands in January to address substance abuse and mental health issues. The facility offers traditional counseling as well as advanced therapies like biofeedback, which allows health care providers to obtain information about a patient’s body through electronic feedback, Vice President Presley Hambrick said.

While Hambrick said the need for mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities is widespread and not limited to the boundaries of The Woodlands, Montgomery County experienced 480 deaths by suicide—or 14.51 percent of total death rates per 100,000 population from 2008-2014. During the same time frame, Harris County experienced 2,970 deaths by suicide, or 10.13 percent of all deaths.

“The majority of our clients come from The Woodlands or very close to The Woodlands,” Hambrick said. “We don’t have many that come from farther than Spring.”

In the same month, Symetria Recovery also opened on Rayford Road, as one of the only 3 percent of clinics in the U.S. that offers medically assisted treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders. The facility offers an intensive outpatient program, which consists of counseling and therapy, and is able to administer medications, such as Vivitrol, Methadone and buprenorphine, which suppress withdrawal symptoms while a patient works toward sobriety, Symetria Recovery Regional Director Don Schroder said.

“Anytime you have high levels of alcoholism or substance abuse, you’re going to have higher rates of suicide—they go hand-in-hand,” Schroder said. “We’re constantly having to assess for suicide every time we interact with patients to make sure they’re OK.”

The company also has facilities in College Station and Jersey Village, with plans to open three more in the Greater Houston area.

Curbing the crisis

Most recently, Woodland Springs Behavioral Health opened June 7. The 96-bed psychiatric facility is equipped to treat adults with co-occurring disorders, adults with severe psychiatric disorders, adolescents and seniors. The facility offers both inpatient and outpatient programming.

Bill Prasad, Woodland Springs Behavioral Health director of outpatient services, said he agrees that substance abuse and mental health issues are closely linked and that fighting the stigma associated with both is one of the biggest challenges for a person seeking treatment.

“Shame gets in the way—it can kill you,” Prasad said. “We saw that with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain—two people who had the money, access and time [to seek treatment] but were prevented from doing so because of shame. So on the surface, it appears that were are losing the battle. That’s disconcerting and upsetting. But at least we’re in the fight instead of on the sidelines.”

However, as substance abuse and suicide rates continue to climb, Bryant said during his tenure in the field, he has witnessed significant efforts  to reduce stigma associated with both mental health and substance abuse, as well as greater accessibility to treatment facilities. As these trends are expected to continue, Bryant said he hopes both suicide and substance abuse will eventually cease to be crises in the U.S.

“We’re seeing less stigma associated with having a mental health problem, and I think that’s created a much friendlier atmosphere for the growth of mental health facilities in The Woodlands because people are willing to ask for help,” Bryant said. “Mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders are very treatable and manageable, and there are opportunities all over The Woodlands to seek help. But there is still a great need—the reality is, we’re not even reaching 10 percent of the people who could use this service.”