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COVID-19 is Taking on Mental Health and Recovery | COVID's Effect on the Addiction Treatment Process

February 18, 2021
All Points North Lodge

Dr. Ryan Drzewiecki

I think what we're experiencing right now is incredibly traumatic for so many people. We're dealing with number one, something that is traumatic. A lot of people are losing their jobs, or even if they're not, I think everybody's job is, there are questions about it. I think it's a very unsafe time and that's the perfect breeding ground for mental health issues. Then, you don't quite feel safe. When things don't quite feel steady. Then, you're not secure.

Even if things are going well for you, and they aren't for everybody, but even if things are going well, this is a dangerous time. And of course, we have so many people who are out of their job or down on their work, who are super isolated, who are not able to do the things that we've all been taught to do to manage our mental health. Go to the gym every day, go swim some laps, go hang out with friends, go to the coffee shop, and just treat yourself. So many of our wonderful coping skills have been just cut off at the knees by COVID. And at the same time that things have gotten so much more stressful.

So I know we're seeing some skyrocketing rates of addiction as people are at home and more able to drink or use, or they're feeling depressed, or they're feeling traumatized, and they're self-medicating more and more. And I imagine we're going to see that with mental health too, a lot. There are some people who are, I think, actually finding the opposite or finding that life has slowed down, is simplified. And I know I've talked to people who appreciate some of this.

But I think, for the most part, it's very, very stressful for everybody. And it's something that we're going to feel the impact of for a very long time, even after all the restrictions are lifted and COVID's passed on. I think we'll be dealing with the repercussions from a mental health perspective, and certainly other perspectives as well for quite a while.

In terms of the impact or how it impacts treatment on a bigger scale, it's very interesting, I think because so much of what we see and what we deal with are people who have ended up in a place of isolation. We're big on viewing addiction and mental health through an attachment lens. And a lot of the way that we see people is, a lot of the mental health issues and a lot of the substance abuse issues, either as a cause or result in those individuals have gotten really detached from their social support network.

Sometimes with alcohol or drugs, people are self-medicating. Or other times they just fall away from family, friends, and support network because they've been using so much. But usually, the people who come in here for treatment are pretty cut off, and reconnecting them to each other, having them create a strong connection with clinicians and having them learn to rekindle meaningful, deep human relationships, where you're able to regulate your own emotion through an interpersonal relationship is huge.

And COVID throws a wrench in all of that because we're all forced to be socially distant. We're all wearing masks. We're all encouraged to socially distance, and we're all encouraged to stay home. And I really think it's created a lot of problems that have contributed to substance use, and it creates a lot of challenges as we try to treat it as well.

So much of what works for addiction and mental health is getting connected and staying connected, and it's harder than ever. Even getting clients connected to an AA group is more of a challenge. We're doing a lot with Zoom, and we're doing a lot of groups, just with our clientele here. But it's harder for them to go out into the community and just go to a group, whereas we might've done that in the past.

So, I really see it as a unique challenge. As we're telling people, one of the best ways to get back to a healthy, balanced lifestyle is to stay connected and create, seek out and find those meaningful connections. They're stuck in this place of, yeah but how do I do that when I'm not supposed to go out? When I'm not working, when I'm isolated, when my kids are at home. When I'm stuck in and I'm not really able to do much. When I can barely even talk to the person at the restaurant, how do I create these meaningful connections? And we've been helping our clients just to wrap their minds around that. Reconnecting.

It's hard to reconnect with somebody that you've lost touch with via Zoom. It's so much easier to be in that room and try to make that happen. I think it is an opportunity that we as a culture have, to be able to take this time and to understand that mental health touches everybody. And that there's such a large societal component to mental health as well. Struggling with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. It doesn't mean that there's something broken.

It can mean that there are very real-life stressors and pressures that are weighing you down. And depression, anxiety, and what have you are all very natural physiological responses to being under the sort of stress and pressure that we're under right now. A lot of times I'll explain it to people, just like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs from Psych 101. We all have certain basic needs, and when they're not being met our brain sends us signals to let us know that our needs aren't being met. But if those needs are unmet for long enough it manifests in mental health symptoms.

So if you are impacted by COVID and your financial security is shaky, everything's going to be shaky, and you're going to be anxious. And it would be weird if you weren't anxious when your financial situation's in question. If you've lost your job, or if you're in danger of losing your job and there's nothing you can do about it because you have zero control over COVID, it's easy to feel helpless. And it's easier for that helplessness to blossom into depression because you have a major problem and you have zero capacity to control it. And that is depression.

So I think we have just a real opportunity as a society to take this time and to use it to understand that mental health touches us all. There's nothing wrong with people who are feeling one way or the other. It doesn't mean that they're not doing something well, and it doesn't mean that things are falling apart. It doesn't mean that they're flawed or broken. It just means that they're reacting to life stressors in a way that they know-how.

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