Hurricane Harvey leaves mental health impact during the holidays

Although the holiday season is a joyful time, many families this year are still feeling the impacts of Hurricane Harvey. To help bring awareness to the struggle that many families are facing, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston hosted a program for Houston community leaders, which included insight and information from Baylor faculty.

“The purpose of this program was to bring together religious, business and community leaders to discuss how to effectively deal with the stress of the holidays, especially this holiday, post-Harvey, and to bring them together with mental health experts that can help their constituents,” said Jodi Bernstein, vice president for interfaith relations and community partnerships at Interfaith Ministries.

The keynote speakers included Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor, and her father, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture.

The kind and heroic acts of Jim McIngvale during and post-Harvey have made him even more of a hometown hero than before. He described the night he opened the doors to his furniture stores and welcomed people seeking refuge from the storm that was flooding their homes. He even sent out his own trucks to help rescue people from floodwaters. His message was clear:

“People are all that matter,” he said. “Hurricane or no hurricane.”

For her part, Elizabeth McIngvale spoke about coping with her obsessive compulsive disorder, the importance of destigmatizing mental illnesses and how mental illnesses are often exacerbated after traumatic events.

“For anyone who already has a mental illness, we are much more likely to experience signs of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses after a traumatic event like Hurricane Harvey,” she said. “Some patients whose illness was decently managed are back to square one after Hurricane Harvey hit. We need to be aware of the increase in symptoms and what they look like.”

But it’s not just those with depression and other mental illness who may need extra care this holiday, she said. “We also need to be aware of what the holidays are going to be like for the people across the city who don’t have the house that they’ve had for 30 years or who don’t have a dining room table where their family can gather for their holiday meal. We need to help provide for them.”

After Jim and Elizabeth McIngvale made their remarks, faith leaders representing Houston’s diverse religious community participated in a panel discussion about how they were helping their congregants and the wider community deal with the stress of the holidays post-Harvey.

“Sadly a number of the faith leaders were personally impacted by Harvey and their own homes were destroyed,” Bernstein said. “In addition, their congregations were flooded and families in their congregations were flooded. It was important to have them share these experiences with the group as well as how their faith has helped them cope.”

A panel of mental health experts concluded the program with a discussion about the resources that they could offer to families, children, faith leaders and other individuals. One of the panelists was Dr. Matthew Stanford, adjunct professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

One way to boost your mental health at the holidays? Giving back to the community. Learn more in the video below about how giving back can boost your spirits and lift those in need.

-by Julia Bernstein