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Psychology department increases mental health care accessibly for restaurant workers

During the coronavirus outbreak, the psychology department hopes to provide food and beverage workers increased access to mental health resources. | File photo

In light of the downturn of Houston’s restaurant industry, the University’s psychology department has partnered with Mental Health America of Greater Houston and the Southern Smoke Foundation to provide free mental health care to Texas food and beverage workers, as well as their families.

With Texas seeing a rise in coronavirus cases with more than 2,000 new cases daily, some restaurants are struggling to survive the now sluggish business days. Some employees in the food industry have been laid off due to the financial struggles of their employers.

“The pandemic accelerated the desire to implement the program,” said director of the Center for Forensic Psychology John Vincent.

The Hobby School of Public Affairs released a report stating that around 80 percent of the restaurants that participated in their study had laid off their employees, with the majority of them laying off more than half of their staff.

The Southern Smoke Foundation recognized the need for mental health initiatives in the food and beverage industry, as it is a high-stress environment for long hours, and now has a pandemic threatening to take away their livelihood.

In the program, clinical psychology graduate students are assigned to patients and are to report back to supervisors to get advice on how to apply evidence-based courses of treatment.

Vincent said these procedures deal with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress, and can be used by the doctoral students in real-time while providing help to these clients who have been devastated by this pandemic.

“These aren’t recipes to blindly apply to each and every individual person,” said director of Clinical Training and Developmental Psychopathology Lab Carla Sharp. “We have great humility in our approach as we can’t assume what’s best is best for this individual.” 

Sharp said the pandemic exposed the lack of accessibility for people who don’t typically get access to mental health care, and that even afterwards it will keep them moving for broader availability of it.

“The silver lining forced us to think of offering services through remote platforms,” Sharp said.

Before anything is initiated, the client will get to speak to a clinician over the phone to hash out any details they need to know. Then they will be scheduled for a telehealth appointment with a clinical psychology doctoral student.

“One interesting change for the student therapists is that all the sessions are currently conducted virtually through a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing site,” said doctoral student of Clinical Psychology Johann D’Souza.

D’Souza said not only is the telehealth session convenient for social distancing, but it makes these free services available throughout all of Texas. The program has seen 26 clients assigned to clinicians in a period of three weeks.

“I’ve seen that mental health service providers are eager to provide community services to those who may not be able to access such services,” D’Souza said. “So I hope that initiatives such as this one continue to flourish even if our current circumstances change.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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