Mental health providers in the borderland want people to know that there is help available to anyone experiencing symptoms of grief or trauma after the Aug. 3 massacre in which 22 people were killed at a Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall.
The Emergence Health Network has established an EP Strong Counseling Co-Op where individuals can drop in to receive counseling services and resources. There are five locations and a number of time slots for people seeking help.
Dr. Jean Vanderpool, a psychiatrist at Atlantis Health Services, said some patients are starting to have a recurrence of symptoms, including panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
“I think the impact is going to be long lasting. I think it’s going to be very demanding on our community and on our health system,” Vanderpool said.
The co-op was created in conjunction with Atlantis Health Services and Dr. Zulema Carrillo, superintendent of the El Paso Psychiatric Center. All services at the co-op are free of charge and began on Aug. 8.
Kristi Daugherty, CEO of the Emergence Health Network, said the services will run indefinitely.
People interested in receiving services from the co-op do not have to bring anything and can be identified on a first-name basis, whether they are a community member, first responder or victim.
“We want to make sure we remove barriers for people who want to get help right now. It’s available,” Vanderpool said. “How we deal with things later, next month, I think it depends on the volume.”
There are also several crisis hotlines in El Paso, and there are even more resources available for families of the victims, including a Family Assistance Center at the convention center in Downtown.
The center is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day and parking fees are waived. Services at the center include counseling, health care, travel assistance, financial and legal support, belongings recovery, childcare, translation services, government assistance, temporary IDs and documentation for Mexican nationals.
Daugherty said the organization has seen a large uptick in the number of calls placed to the crisis hotline related to the shooting, but that some of those calls are related to victim services that the Emergence Health Network cannot address.
“People process things in different ways. The fact that nobody can answer ‘why,’ I think that’s the big thing,” Daugherty said.
Noreen Jaramillo, spokeswoman for the Emergence Health Network, said the hotline typically receives about 50 to 60 calls on Saturdays and Sundays. On Aug. 3 the hotline received 133 calls, and on that Sunday there were 141 calls.
On Mondays, Jaramillo said, the hotline typically gets about 100 calls. Last Monday they received 190.
Each call to the hotline is answered by a person, not a recording. Daugherty said the hotline is staffed by four to six qualified mental health professionals, which are trained to provide resources and help with crises and de-escalation.
The emotional toll of mass shootings is widespread and lingering, and emotions and reactions may not always be immediate. The Emergence Health Network is asking individuals to watch out for these symptoms:
• Depression, apathy, irritability
• Anger, sadness, crying, anxiety
• Isolation, feeling numb
• Excessive reaction to minor stress
• Sleeping, eating problems
• Body pains, lack of energy
• Guilt, shame
• Avoiding people, places
• Substance abuse
• Difficulty concentrating
• Memory problems
• Slowed thinking, flashbacks
Daugherty added that things like a breakdown in personal hygiene and withdrawal can also be symptoms of a mental crisis.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re going to need to be able to support our community through funerals, hearings, anniversaries, anytime this pops up,” Daugherty said. “This is a long-term commitment by all three of us to serve the communities.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105.