Mental health calls to Houston VA 'increased dramatically' since pandemic

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month and next Monday is Memorial Day. When you add the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be a difficult time for veterans, but there is help.

Kevin White is an Army veteran who started therapy right before the pandemic hit.

Even with the support of family and loved ones, the past year has been challenging, but the VA was on his side.

"It was a very difficult, challenge to be isolated," White said. "[The help] was amazing. It was absolutely amazing, because then again, fortunately, you were then able to see people."

Through virtual counseling, White got what he needed and he wasn't alone.

So far this year, mental health consults at the DeBakey VA Medical Center are almost equal to the number for the entire year of 2020. It could double by the end of the year. Plus, calls to their crisis line are up 29%.

READ ALSO: Therapists see influx in people seeking mental health services

Fernando Loredo is a therapist at the VA hospital and said he's seen a sharp increase in the number of clients in the past year.

"Personally, my work has increased dramatically over 2020 since the pandemic started," Loredo told ABC13. "People being anxious about getting sick during COVID, financial stressors, worries about people losing jobs and employment needs, children not being able to connect with their friends."

It can lead to dark places, but White said help is just a call away. Even if it's not easy for a veteran to ask.

READ ALSO: Experts offer advice on how to find a healthy work-life balance post-COVID

"It's hard to reach out for a helping hand or find somebody, and that is the additional layer to it that is critical," he said.

It's also good to ask the tough questions of a loved one about whom you have concerns. That can start the dialogue and a road to brighter days ahead.

"I think we do everything we possibly can so that it feels safe, not only for the veterans to reach out, but also their family members as well," Loredo said.

READ ALSO: Some dealing with 're-entry anxiety' as COVID restrictions ease, experts say

If you are a veteran or a family member who needs help, you can visit the VA's mental health website any time.

If you are not a veteran, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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