In the last 3 months our world changed in what seems like a split second and we have all faced the profound fall out of COVID-19 on our communities and the world at large. The ramifications will be long-lasting and each day we are faced with loss of human life, economic security, and the rituals that get us through life like graduations, weddings, and funerals.
Many of us are all too aware that the accompanying grief, isolation and fear will result in widespread psychological trauma. A Texas nonprofit, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute has predicted that if unemployment rises to a level similar to the Great Recession, an additional 4,000 people could die of suicide and an additional 4,800 from drug overdoses. They think if unemployment rises to levels recorded during the 1930s Great Depression, suicides could increase by 18,000 and overdose deaths by more than 22,000.
You might wonder, how I have hope as we face all of this heartache?
I have hope because everyday I see how kindness and compassion can help us get through this period of time. As a mental health provider I have had the gift of witnessing clients, most of whom struggle with substance use and/or trauma, use this period of time to grow and adapt. While there are indications that the number of people struggling with substance use disorders will increase due to the stress of the pandemic, I have marveled at what some of my clients have done during this time. Many have used the lockdown as their own private rehab and used the time away from external triggers, like having to navigate whether or not to get drinks after work, to deepen their connection to recovery and self-reflection.
The swiftness to which self-help supports, like 12-step, Recovery Dharma and SMART meetings, took to virtual reality was stunning and many clients have used the lock down as a way to explore meetings that they never would have otherwise would. Many people in recovery have found great joy in being able to attend meetings all over the world and hear different perspectives or share the connection of going to a meeting with friends who live in different locations. Other clients have used the time to reflect on their values and are finding ways to live those values day to day as they help their friends and family members get through these difficult times. Parents are spending more time with their kids and finding great joy in it and realizing that dinner at home with their family is better than a night out using substances.
I have hope because everyday I have also seen the kindness and compassion found in the medical and mental health providers who have been working tirelessly to care for those being impacted by COVID-19. The bravery, sacrifice and skill of the medical community who have been on the front lines is obvious and we all forever owe them a debt of gratitude. In the months and years to come, they will need our support as they experience the emotional fallout of taking this all on so directly. In the meantime, the food being delivered, the free supports being offered and the nightly cheering at 7 PM all reflect how we can support each other during a time of crisis. Treatment programs have hustled to embrace safety protocols that keep their staff and clients safe as they provide essential services and the number of free virtual support groups and webinars that mental health professionals of all types have put up is pretty amazing. As mental health providers we will be on the front lines as the true depth of our collective trauma starts to show itself in the coming months. I have no doubt that we will support each other in facing it.
I have hope because everyday I see family members and friends trying to help a loved one struggling with substance use or mental health issues. Many have faced separation for people they are concerned about and others have had to be in lockdown with someone they are concerned about. I have witnessed so many reach out and ask for support and help in taking care of their loved ones and themselves. The willingness to learn new skills, even though they are completely overwhelmed by what is happening in the world around them is inspiring.
So while there are many reasons to be heart-broken, I am incredibly lucky to be able to bear witness to all the human moments of connection and growth that give me hope. I believe with a deep commitment to our values and compassion for ourselves and others, we will find ways to survive and thrive. If we all find ways to share why we have hope, it can create a foundation we can build on as we face the continued impact of COVID-19 on our world.
If you need some help finding hope during these times, our nonprofit, CMC:Foundation for Change, has put together a new video series: Why I Have Hope. Each video explores how our community members spread hope while supporting change in the lives of their loved ones. We would love to hear from you if you want to share your story by sending in your own video or writing for our blog. We hope to hear from you soon. We are all in this together.