The University of Houston-Victoria is launching a new free community health program focused on helping individuals in the Crossroads improve their mental health and, by extension, their physical health.

Getting Better, Together is part of a continuation of programs funded by a previous grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. It is an expansion of the Victoria Alliance Against Chronic Kidney Disease program established through the original Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas grant awarded two years ago. The kidney disease program also is continuing for another year.

“The ongoing global pandemic has severely impacted the mental health of many Texans. So, it’s important that we make behavioral health a priority in our community grants,” said Sheena Payne, BCBSTX’s director of Community Investments. “The University of Houston-Victoria recognized a need and found a vehicle to expand needed mental health services in their community. That’s why we are happy to support their effort to connect people to the behavioral health resources that they need.”

The Getting Better, Together program is open to 200 participants. It will be offered virtually and will focus on common mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.

All of these issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Brent Lang, UHV assistant professor of psychology. The university will partner with Gulf Bend Center and the Victoria County Public Health Department to offer the program to residents of Victoria, Calhoun, Goliad, DeWitt, Lavaca and Jackson counties.

“We want people to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress so they can find more effective ways to manage it,” said Lang, the program’s principal investigator. “We will be using tested, effective methods to help participants recognize how their mental health is impacting their physical health and how their physical health can affect their mental health.”

Participants will attend biweekly virtual sessions. The first session will include surveys about participants’ mental health. Throughout the yearlong program, participants will attend sessions focused on improving mental health. These sessions will include learning about stress management and engaging in group therapy sessions.

In addition to the focus on mental health, the program will encourage participants to improve their physical health through a variety of resources. Participants will be asked to track their nutrition and physical activity. A custom nutrition and physical activity plan will be created for participants, and participants will be given a free Fitbit.

This portion of the program will closely resemble the kidney disease program, said Michael Wiblishauser, a UHV assistant professor of health studies who leads the kidney program and is helping to lead the new program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on individuals made it abundantly clear that there needs to be more focus on mental health in today’s world,” Wiblishauser said. “This program is designed to help people improve their lives, especially in terms of mental health. After 16 months or more of quarantines, job losses and disconnect from society, it’s become clear that people need mental health resources.”

To learn more about the program or to sign up to participate, contact Lang at 361-570-4201 or bettertogether@uhv.edu.

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