LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Many Americans struggle with mental health conditions that sometimes can go unnoticed or untreated and in rural America getting help can be a challenge.
“The need for therapy has gone up,” said Catherine Bitney, a clinical assistant professor at Texas State University.
Bitney said the biggest change over the past few years has been the increase of awareness in mental health problems and people being able to talk about it more.
“Certainly in my group practice we have gotten a lot more clients looking for therapy,” said Bitney.
Raising awareness about mental health resources and letting people know that there is help is important, Bitney said.
From anxiety to depression, there are a number of factors that contribute to a mental health breakdown. Bitney said someone’s profession can also play a part.
“Anyone who is doing frontline work is probably going to see gruesome stuff, so EMT’s, child protective services, firefighters, police officers,” Bitney said.
A report from the state said suicide mortality rates in 2020 continued to be elevated in rural Texas compared to urban areas of the state. It points to socioeconomic status, social isolation and scarcity of mental health resources, but Bitney said there have been some positive changes.
“If you are in a rural area and there is no providers near you, if you have internet access, you can get online therapy,” said Bitney.
About 70 miles northwest of Austin is Llano County, where the Llano County Sheriff’s Office puts an emphasis on mental health.
“There are a lot of mental illnesses out there,” said Jeff Phillips, who is the county’s mental health deputy.
His job is to respond to a number of mental health scenarios.
“Officers in trauma, dispatchers, or just our citizens,” said Phillips.
In the last few months the department added a new addition to their team — 13-week-old Luna the Goldendoodle, who will serve as a therapy dog.
“We love her she is so sweet,” said a 911 dispatcher in Llano County.
In a few months, Luna will head off to train with Phillips. Once her training is completed, Luna will have a number of roles.
“I am hoping she is able to sit in courtrooms with some of our child victims and even adult victims of family violence and sexual assault,” said Phillips.
Phillips said not only does she bring a smile to everyone’s face, but will also help in some of the more traumatic scenarios that could come up.