Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo, Ph.D., is serving as program evaluator and senior consultant for the Mental Health Voucher Program and Lubbock Peer Support Project
In recent years, the stigma surrounding mental health has started to decline, creating more available mental health resources accessible to the public. With this increase in resources has also come more open conversation among health professionals and researchers about best practices in the utilization of these services for both individuals and communities, including implementation.
In 2020, it is this same focus that inspired collaboration between the West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), Llano Estacado Alliance for Democracy (LEAD), and Lubbock Catholic charities to create the Mental Health Voucher Program (MHVP). Funded by the CARES Act Provider Coronavirus Relief Fund and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Mental Health Voucher Program was created in response to the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and its cause of high emotional distress, social isolation, and restricted access to mental health services.
"MHVP brings together a broad group of Lubbock mental health professionals and providers (e.g., psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, therapists, social workers) who will be able to address the needs of the families, children, and individuals who otherwise may not have access to mental health services," explained Human Development and Family Sciences associate chair Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo, Ph.D.
As the program is implemented into the Lubbock community, Trejos-Castillo, with the assistance of her Positive Youth Development Lab (PYD) graduate research assistant, Rula Zaru, and additional PYD student researchers will develop assessment materials for the evaluation of MHVP's impact.
"This program represents not only the collaborative capacity of our community leaders to solve local problems but, more importantly, the commitment of the Lubbock organizations and professionals to support the well-being and resiliency of those affected by this world-wide pandemic," Trejos-Castillo said.
Not only has the Mental Health Voucher Program been created to provide mental health services at no cost for individuals, families, and children, its creation comes alongside a mental health program aimed at improving the delivery and access to mental health and wellness services for law enforcement – the Lubbock Peer Support Project.
The Lubbock Peer Support Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), and Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program. Key partners in this project include the Lubbock Police Department, consultants from Lubbock Christian University, and from Texas Tech University's Psychological Sciences and Human Development and Family Sciences departments, with Trejos-Castillo serving as a senior consultant on the project.
"The Lubbock Peer Support Project will supplement and improve officers' mental health through advanced services that will support their resiliency and wellbeing," Trejos-Castillo said. "On a daily basis, police officers deal with diverse challenges that may impact their mental and behavioral health, and thus, their physical and emotional wellness is essential for them to be effective in keeping our Lubbock community safe from crime and violence."
The inspiration for the Lubbock Peer Support Project comes from the collaboration between Trejos-Castillo and Psychological Sciences associate professor Brandy Piña-Watson, Ph.D., and Psychological Sciences Psychology Clinic director Megan Thoen, Ph.D., who have been assessing police agencies and officer perspectives of suicide prevention and wellness programming on a large-scale national project. The program is also a result of a strong collaboration and commitment between Thoen and the Lubbock Police Department to support the wellness of police officers.
"It is the hope of the team of researchers and collaborators that this program can be adapted and replicated to become a model for other police departments and agencies in West Texas and nearby communities in the future," Trejos-Castillo said. "We also aim to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health services across public servants and the community members at large."