A priest in Dripping Springs is working to improve access to mental health resources where few exist. Father Charlie Garza of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church was alarmed at the suicide rate in his community, so he worked with NAMI Central Texas (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to found the St. Dymphna Center. Named after the patron saint of mental health, the center hosts group counseling sessions, offers educational workshops for faith leaders and school staff, and provides one-on-one space for counselors and therapists.
The situation is especially concerning in Hays County, says Amy Roedl, a Wesley nurse with the Methodist Healthcare Ministries at Dripping Springs United Methodist Church. Roedl notes the county leads the nation in measures such as teen suicide rates and adult sick days due to mental illness. Compounding the issue is a lack of access to mental health professionals and a hesitancy to discuss mental health. “We really don’t talk about it here,” she says
.But getting help quickly is key, says Karen Ranus, Executive Director of NAMI Central Texas. “Left untreated, mental health issues only worsen,” she says. “And left untreated, many times people end up in crisis or end up encountering the criminal justice system. Sadly, we also see suicides on the rise.”
Father Charlie has personal experience with mental illness; his mother struggled with untreated bipolar disorder. “My mom felt she had to hide that she had that struggle. People who use our resources tell us they’re appreciative they don’t have to hide. It’s something that brings me a lot of joy.”
Ranus says she’s grateful for Father Charlie’s action. “It’s elevating the conversation, so that hopefully more people are talking opening and positively about mental health. Father Charlie stands in a place of leadership in that community, which is growing so fast, and the resources aren’t keeping up with the need.”