Valley’s demand for mental health care ever-growing

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With 1 in 4 people at some point in their lifetime dealing with mental illness, it’s no wonder why Tropical Texas Behavioral Health has increased the size of its workforce by 650% over the years to meet a rapidly growing demand in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Tropical will provide services to over 32,000 different people this year alone throughout the Valley,” said Terry Crocker, chief executive officer at Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, on Wednesday.

Although the need for mental health resources was emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic due to many people struggling with anxiety and depression, local health experts say the need for these resources has always been around.

According to Crocker, there has always been a demand for mental health resources in the Valley and it only continues to increase. He attributes the increase in patients over the years to the lack of resources available in the area as well as the continuous population growth.

He explained that the scarcity of resources in the Valley caused institutions to struggle to keep up with the demand.

“As the local population grows, the local demand for those types of resources has grown, so it’s always been a struggle to keep up with that amount of demand,” Crocker said.

He added that in the general population about 4% to 6% of people will have a serious type of mental illness, while an additional percentage of the population will deal with mental health issues that are not considered chronic or acute, such as anxiety.

Although Crocker acknowledges that the need for mental health resources still needs to grow he believes the region has continued to see improvement in that area as well as seen an increase in mental health awareness across the Valley.

“Those services have been growing, we have a lot more local infrastructure from local providers like DHR Behavioral, South Texas Behavioral, Palms Behavioral … psychological counselors, individual types of service providers,” Crocker said. “Those services have been growing over the years and are extremely important to the service net that people need because there is a wide variety of mental health conditions that are out there, a variety of different types of conditions and a huge variety of acuity levels.”

He explained that their facility which once staffed 200 people has now increased to a staff of about 1,500 people to continue to meet the needs of the Valley.

Tropical Texas Behavioral Heath on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The facility has received funds to continue to increase resources in the Valley and currently have more space to accommodate more patients seeking help.

Among the 38 community behavioral health centers across the state, Crocker explained that Tropical Texas ranks in the top five largest centers in Texas.

“We provide more services for children for the state of Texas in the community than any other center in the state other than Dallas, that speaks to the amount of need that exists in the Valley,” Crocker said, adding that in recent years, they’ve seen a rise in younger patients.

First things first, however. It’s important to identify, or acknowledge the need for help.

When it comes to mental health in the Valley, Crocker attributes people avoiding treatment or seeking treatment to the culture. He explained that oftentimes families attempt to take matters into their own hands rather than seeking advice from a healthcare professional.

He also explained that people tend to conceptualize mental illness to whatever they see online or in films, which creates misconceptions about mental health struggles.

“There are many, many different types of mental health, mental illness diagnoses, and even in those diagnoses there’s different levels or intensity of illness and degrees of illness,” he said.

That’s why you always hear that education is key.

“It’s very important that people in the Valley are aware of mental health, how important it is, and to help decrease the stigma that is related to getting treatment for mental health,” Crocker said. “We know from scientific research, the earlier we get someone with a serious mental health condition into service, into treatment, the better chance they have at recovery.”

Tropical Texas Behavioral Heath on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Paying mind to feelings that affect and disrupt your daily life is important to identifying whether you’re in need of mental health treatment or care, according to Crocker.

“If it’s something that is different for them, say their sleep patterns are disrupted, their eating patterns are disrupted, they’re losing weight, something is really different,” Crocker added.

Tropical Texas has a hotline available year-round and at all hours of the day by calling (877) 289-7199.

Crocker explained that support groups not only bring comfort but have encouraged those struggling with issues to reach out for help.

“I think that is the best place to start to ease into knowing where you’re at and knowing where you might need to go next in regards to feeling more comfortable, self-care and getting yourself to a better spot,” Crocker said.

Those who are seeking treatment can call Tropical Texas at (956) 289-7000. They will then conduct a screening to see if one is eligible for their services.

Crocker explained that Tropical Texas focuses its efforts in providing services for people with more acute or serious diagnosis such as schizophrenia.

“Regardless (of one’s condition) they can call our number and we provide the screening for them. If they are not eligible for our service we’ll connect them with someone who can provide the service level they’re looking for or is a match for the issue that they’re dealing with,” Crocker said.

Crocker, who has worked in the field for about 40 years explained that hearing the positive outcomes as well as receiving cards and letters of thanks from patients has continued to motivate him to advocate for mental health and resources for treatment.

Tropical Texas Behavioral Heath on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

To continue raising awareness, Tropical Texas will be hosting events throughout the month of May including a Children’s Mental Health Awareness Carnival, which will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, May 16 at the Weslaco location on 2215 W. Business 83.

The Harlingen location will be hosting an event observing Mental Health Awareness Month on May 24 from 3 to 5 p.m. at 103 N. Loop 499.