By Sarah Klingenstein
June 4, 2020

“If you injure yourself, you’re going to see a doctor. It’s no different if you are suffering from a mental health crisis. We are available for residents who are in crisis, whether physical or emotional. Our staff will answer your call. We’ll listen for as long as you need us to, and get you the help you or your family members need,” said Frank Bejarano, D.B.H., L.P.C., head of Behavioral Health at Mariposa Community Health Center (MCHC) in Nogales.

A recent Census Bureau study amidst the pandemic showed that a third of Americans are suffering from anxiety or depression. Bejarano reports an increase in stress among local people due to job loss and isolation. “People initially seemed to be adapting okay to the crisis, but as time has gone on, stress has increased, leading to more financial worry, depression, alcohol and drug use, and domestic violence. The crisis has brought some families together, but for others, the cracks in family relationships are really starting to show.”

Dr. Philip Williams, head of Pediatrics at MCHC, outlined the menu of services the Clinic provides. Besides medical and mental health, the center provides dental care and pharmacy services. They offer education and support to chronic disease, mental health and prenatal clients.

A staff of care coordinators has been able to follow up on current clients who have not checked in since the start of the stay-at-home orders. If they are concerned and cannot reach an at-risk client, they can enlist emergency services to do a welfare check by stopping by the client’s home.

 “We are an information source as well, especially during this time. People call us with questions about keeping their families safe, and how to recognize when they need to seek help to find out if they have contracted COVID-19. We are happy to answer all questions,” Williams said.

Williams and Bejarano are glad they were already using telemedicine in areas such as chronic disease and prenatal education. “We added behavioral health, so we can see our clients remotely. Some are returning now for face-to-face visits, which is still preferable.”

Adolescents are especially vulnerable, as the absence of school leaves many kids without a safe and supportive environment. Tempest Smith, a local resident and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides mental health services part-time to Patagonia public schools, is relieved that the pandemic arrived later in the school year, when trusting relationships had been developed. She teaches mindfulness practices throughout the grade levels and has continued working with middle and high school students through distance learning. Smith says, “I hear the students talk about learning to accept and “be with” difficult, as well as positive, emotions, through breathing, journaling, and body awareness…Mindfulness is a protective practice, and now is a valuable time to put it into action.”

“Some of our students are struggling, but they repeatedly identify their families as a protective factor. They are grateful for them,” Smith said. She is glad to have maintained contact with the students so that, with summer vacation just beginning, she could prepare them to seek the help they may need and do what they can to thrive over the summer.

Williams, Bejarano, and Smith agree that this is a crucial time for families to observe and respond to changes in family members’ behavior and attitudes. It is important to notice if someone is isolating themselves more than would be expected, sounding hopeless, losing interest in things he or she usually enjoys, or talking about death.

 “Don’t be afraid to ask them what’s going on. Let’s seek out resources to help the people we love through this unprecedented situation,” Bejarano advised. Behavioral health appointments may be made for the Nogales or Rio Rico offices, or remotely. Patagonia or Sonoita residents can contact their own doctor at the Patagonia Clinic at (520) 281-1550 or (520) 394-2262 to set up a mental health consultation. MCHC takes many insurance plans, has its own plans, and will never turn away an uninsured patient in a crisis situation.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, call 911, the Nursewise Crisis line at (866) 495-6735, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

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