Behavioral healthcare takes giant step forward with new MHMR certification

By Vince Erickson

It is official: The Heart of Texas Region MHMR Center has been awarded the distinction of becoming a Texas-Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, or CCBHC, by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

The new certification greatly enhances the center’s commitment to delivering innovative and cutting-edge behavioral health, substance use disorder, and developmental disability services within its six-county region of McLennan, Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, and Limestone counties. 

The CCBHC model moves the 52-year-old agency from a performance or hour-based service model to an outcome-based model and incorporating physical healthcare, as well as the following:

  • Care coordination across settings and providers across the full spectrum of physical health services, both acute and chronic, and behavioral health care;
  • Availability and accessibility of services that are not based on the consumer’s ability to pay or place of residence; and
  • Customized care where the consumer is actively involved and has the ability to self-direct services, having maximum choice and control over their services

The Center is the 24th entity in the state to receive Texas-CCHBC certification. The State of Texas has encouraged all 39 Texas Community Centers to achieve CCBHC status before September 2021.

Our staff has worked diligently on this goal since applying for CCBHC status in March 2020. Our Center, as the local Mental Health Authority, will continue to lead the way through the CCBHC model to provide high-quality, coordinated care that is accessible and efficient.

The center was also recently awarded a nearly $4 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in anticipation of CCBHC certification. The grant will accelerate mental health and substance use services and staff expansion under the CCBHC model immediately.

The center’s CCBHC certification will be in effect from February 2021 through February 2024.

Vince Erickson directs the Public Information Office & #TexansRecoveringTogether Crisis Counseling Program for the Heart of Texas Region MHMR Center. You may also remember Vince as a former news and sports anchor and sports reporter in stops at KXXV-TV, KCEN-TV and KWTX-TV. He’s happy to call Waco home, along with his wife and two children.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Experts warn of impending mental health epidemic; there are things we can do

By Tiffiney Gray

One year ago, on Sunday, March 8, 2020, I attended church service with my family, drove to MILO to have brunch, then went to Michael’s to pick up some crafting materials. With two little ones (then 5 months and 3 years old) along for the ride, it was no small decision to add two more stops to our outing. Looking back, I’m glad I braved the possibility of a nursing infant meltdown and toddler restlessness to see smiling faces at church, enjoy brunch, and pick up supplies. Little did I know that day would be my last in-person church service, Sunday brunch, and in-store shopping experience for a very long time. 

In two weeks, our community will mark one year since our local shelter-in-place order. One year of hunkering down, wearing masks, travel restrictions, canceled parties, rescheduled family events, and modified birthday celebrations. For many of our neighbors, this past year has brought on much more than mere social inconveniences, but instead has meant financial, occupational, and family hardships like never before. 

All of this change, not to mention the duration, can take a toll on mental, emotional, and physical health. I’ve been checking in with colleagues, family, friends — and myself — to see how we’re doing. How we’re trudging along. It seems like many of us need a little more help, more support, and more grace these days. And our recent deep freeze hasn’t made this marathon of calamity any better. For many of our Waco neighbors February’s icy, snowy storm dealt yet another blow to a long haul of health concerns, economic uncertainty, lost income, social isolation, and all kinds of distress. Being in the dark, being in the cold, wanting for running water, and watching your groceries (bought with hard-earned wages) spoil right before your eyes has a way of layering on the pressure and testing our ability to cope. 

These pressures can accumulate, and experts are warning of an impending mental health epidemic that could sweep across the country, but especially impact communities of color. 

Last spring, we witnessed the disproportionate physical health impacts of COVID-19 in Black and Hispanic communities brought on by historical social and economic inequities. Changes in the way families interact, commune, socialize, celebrate, and mourn have aggravated existing traumas, brought on separation distress, grief issues, anxiety, and a host of other mental health challenges. But what can we do reduce the impact of this looming storm?

Check on your neighbors, family, and friends. 

Use every safe communications channel at your disposal, including digital and traditional ways of engaging. Think Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet, What’s App video calls, and good old-fashioned land lines. A carside-to-front yard meet up (with masks in tow) is also a family favorite. Maintaining relationships and social connections is more important than ever to keep spirits high. 

Tell your health provider what’s going on. 

When we have back pain, we don’t hesitate to see a spine doctor or a physical therapist. The same should be true of emotional pain. Connect with a mental health provider or schedule an appointment with your family doctor to ask about more specialized support from a mental health practitioner, therapist, or counselor. 

Talk with a trusted advisor. 

Whether it’s a pastor, a community elder, a professional mentor, or in my case another mom of toddlers, extend an invitation to pray together, to share a devotion through FaceTime, or to have virtual coffee to talk and catch up. My hope is that the outpouring of grace, prayers, and encouragement flows both ways. 

Call for immediate help. 

The Heart of Texas Region MHMR is home to emergency counseling services for anyone impacted by the pandemic. MHMR is a huge local resource with a host of counseling and therapeutic services in addition to social support and wellness resources. Whether it’s a crisis or you simply need to talk to someone, MHMR is available to help.

MHMR Crisis Line 866-752-3451

MHMR COVID Help Line 866-576-1101

Advocate for better coverage of mental health care. 

I’ve been on the search for mental health support and therapy for my family and me for several months. With my own health consumer hat on, navigating insurance coverage and which providers even accept my (really good) insurance, or accept insurance at all, has been both surprising and disappointing. We need collective advocacy to demand better. Better payor coverage of mental health services and better acceptance of insurance by mental health providers. There is undoubtedly a need – a market – for mental health care, and marketplace vendors (practitioners and payors) should better respond to consumer needs. 

A year ago, I wrote a post about minding your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to believe that we’re still riding out this storm 11 months later and my hunch is that this ride of ours isn’t over yet. Our resilience has been tested, tried, and tested again, but we’re in this together to support our neighbors when they need us and to lean on our neighbors when we need them. 

Tiffiney Gray is senior content specialist for health with Prosper Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Mental Health in Congregations: A continuing ed course from Amberley Collaborative

By Meg Wallace

The first appearance of a mental illness can be terrifying, whether you are the one experiencing it or someone you care about is falling ill. Your mind is muddled, a crisis is gathering steam, and you know you need help — but where to begin? Who will help you find your way?

Chronic depression or anxiety can be isolating. You drop out of your usual activities because it hurts too much to start your day, or you fear you’ll have a panic attack in public. So you stop getting together with friends, and you miss one more Sunday at church. You retreat gradually, and no one notices you’re gone. You’re alone.

Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19.

Of course, professional help can make an enormous difference in your life. Medication can reduce your symptoms, and a therapist can help you sort things out. But living with a mental illness can be a day-to-day struggle, or bouts of worsening symptoms may disrupt a period of recovery. It can be a hard road, so hard to walk alone.

In many communities of faith, people commit to walking together. But walking with someone struggling with chronic depression or anxiety can challenge our empathy. We want our friend to snap out of their distress, and when they don’t, we’re unsure how to share time with them. A youth attempts suicide, or a member has a manic episode. They are receiving professional help, and we know we shouldn’t leave them to walk alone between therapy appointments. But the situation feels scary and confusing. What do we do?

Decades of research indicates that people in distress often turn to faith communities for support. When the congregation’s response is healthy, it can be a key aspect of recovery for people living with mental illness. But when the response is negative or unhelpful, congregations can do harm. Continuing education can help faith communities respond helpfully — accompanying people living with mental illness and supporting their recovery.

Amberley Collaborative is a new Waco nonprofit that aims to strengthen community support for people with disabilities and other challenges. In our Mental Health in Congregations initiative, we started by talking to leaders at 23 Waco-area congregations to learn how they’re walking alongside people who are struggling and how they’re helping them access professional services. We also wanted to know how these leaders take care of themselves while they care for others, and we asked what kind of support Amberley Collaborative could provide.

The leaders told us they want help figuring out how to organize care in their congregations so needs come to light and people are supported. They need to know more about mental health services and how to access them. They want to learn about various types of mental health challenges and what kinds of responses are helpful, and they want training on what to do in a crisis. They talked about needing to care well for themselves as they care for others. They want to increase the caring capacity of their faith communities by equipping Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to foster wellness in the groups they lead.

With guidance from these faith leaders, Amberley Collaborative has created a continuing education course called Mental Health in Congregations, offered through McLennan Community College Continuing Education beginning Tuesday, Jan 19. The presenters are mental health professionals, pastors, and people with lived experience of mental illness, and each of the six 90-minute sessions is interactive, with plenty of time for dialogue. Our goal is not just to deliver information, but to create a community of care that will last long after the course is over, and to connect participants with mental health professionals who will continue to support their good work in the future.

Please join us. You can learn more about the class on the Amberley Collaborative website. To register go to the MCC website.

Meg Wallace, MA, LMSW, is a 2018 graduate of Baylor’s Garland School of Social Work. She founded the nonprofit Amberley Collaborative to cultivate the kind of community care her own family has needed while grappling with disability. She continues to work as a freelance editor and book indexer while developing the nonprofit.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at ferrell@prosperwaco.org.

Finding unity through the crisis

By Jamie Willmann

In a time where much dissension exists, where the world is hurting out of a lack of love and community, and where isolation has hindered social interaction, we can find a sense of connection in the most unexpected places.

There is benefit in meeting someone who is experiencing the same trials or pain we are going through. Though we may all come from differing backgrounds, we can find unity in this COVID-19 disaster by digging a little under the surface. Underneath, we still find persons who have emotions and feelings that are directly affected by the state of the world. 

Finding commonality in trials breeds possible connection. When we relate to one another, sympathy is present. It creates a sense of safety knowing that someone knows what we are experiencing. We may not feel as lonely in our trials anymore, and it creates an internal sense of validation. 

People across the world are experiencing an influx of changes to their normal routines. By nature, we are adaptable to new environments and changes, but the pandemic is entirely on a new scale. It is bringing new situations that we never thought possible. 

We are not designed to be isolated from others. We crave community and the presence of others. As we now adjust to something that goes against our nature, problems arise. Anxiety increases, and irritability becomes present. 

In the moments when you feel COVID-19 has shattered your daily life, imagine that you are standing at the edge of potential for growth. Although you may feel anxious, depressed, or fearful, you also share in the fact that there is growth that can come out of this. You, however, have to choose that path. 

The first step is acknowledging you need help and then accepting a helping hand from your neighbor. 

There is a conception of mental health that needs to be stopped. Many believe they must appear as if they have it all together, which then inhibits them from receiving the help that could change the trajectory of their daily lives. We must break down these expectations to allow others in to help us.

Whether you are facing job loss, money problems, sickness, or family loss, know that you are not alone. Nowhere does it say that you have to do this on your own. 

Our Crisis Counseling Program (called Texans Recovering Together) is made possible by a dedicated group of professional counselors. 

— We are a team of people devoted to providing accessible, caring, and responsive services. 

— We are here to listen to you, to build you up, and to provide you with what you need to press on. 

— We are a network of community support that is here by your side. 

By empowering our communities and taking a strength-based approach, our services provide empowerment to the community and resilience to combat the fear. We believe that we are better together, and we want to help you through these hard times.

Call us at toll-free at (866) 576-1101 to speak with a counselor, or request counseling here.

We are #TexansRecoveringTogether. We are here to help you recover. 

Jamie Willmann was raised in a Christian home and was taught to serve and love others at an early age. She has a passion for making people smile and brightening people’s days. Jamie came from Wisconsin three years ago to attend Baylor, where she graduated with a degree in international studies. She now devotes her free time to self-care, exercising, relaxing in nature, and fellowship with friends.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

Expressing Thanks in Waco

“There is no other virtue like gratitude – none. I’ve never known a person who was grateful who was, at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. Not when you’re grateful.” – Fred Craddock

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Isn’t it wonderful that we have a national holiday for the purpose of giving thanks? I am thankful for the wisdom of our fore-parents for establishing this day. It strikes me as profoundly wise to set aside a time to intentionally focus on giving thanks. I wonder — if they hadn’t done it so long ago — would we have the good sense to do it now? (I feel the same way about free lending libraries…but I digress).

I imagine our great-great-great-great grandparents knew this intuitively, but today we have research evidence that gratitude is good for you. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter (November, 2011), “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” The same article goes on to offer this definition of gratitude, “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”

Perhaps because thankfulness brings about that “connection to something larger than ourselves,” I find that there is a link between gratitude and generosity. When I take the time to count my blessings, the urge wells up to want to share those blessings with others. I imagine it is the same for you. With that in mind, I offer this short list of things for which I am thankful along with some ideas for sharing those blessings locally.

I am thankful for…

And finally, I am so very grateful for you – the Act Locally Waco Community. You have made my life rich this year. As I scroll back through the Act Locally Waco Facebook log, and browse through the pictures with the Big Orange Frame, I am almost overwhelmed by all the beautiful faces of you, my extraordinary friends and neighbors of every size and age and description – giving of yourselves, enjoying yourselves, or just keeping on keeping on. I appreciate you. I thank you, and I’m thankful for you. God bless Waco!