Guest Opinion by Faire Holliday, Program Manager
Published December 21, 2020 in the Longmont Times Call
There are two things about the psychological impact of the pandemic that I keep thinking about this holiday season. These two things are on opposite sides of a spectrum of sorts. One captures the scope of the problem; the other makes it personal. I often find that we need both to really wrap our heads around something. Data is important, but it doesn’t necessarily make us care. Personal stories are important, but they don’t tell us everything. That’s why my brain keeps bouncing back and forth between these two thoughts, trying to make sense of the consequences of isolation at the end of a very difficult year.
This is the scope of the problem
According to data from Boulder County Public Health, emergency room visits for suicide attempts nearly doubled in 2020 compared to the three-year average from 2017 to 2019. That means almost twice as many of our loved ones–partners, parents, siblings, children, and friends–tried to end their lives this year. What’s more, emergency room visits for opioid overdoses were one and a half times higher this year compared to the three-year average from 2017 to 2019. Some of the people who ended up in the ER for these reasons survived. Some did not.
Loneliness, addiction, and mental illness were already at epidemic levels before COVID-19. These past nine months have torn gaping holes in an already fraying system that struggles to treat addiction and mental health disorders. COVID-19 has been a shot across our bow, a reminder that we can do better. We must do better. People’s lives depend on it.
Here’s how it gets personal
Before Recovery Café Longmont was required to close its physical space in November because of the surge in local COVID-19 cases, one of our new members shared that he is seeking to be “in recovery from loneliness.” This phrase has gone through my mind countless times since then. As difficult as this time of disconnection is for me, I know it’s much more difficult for people with fewer social ties; people who, like our members, are striving to be in recovery from addiction, from mental health challenges, from trauma, from the weight of being unknown.
When I think about the data from Boulder County Public Health, I think about this member and all the other people I care about who are living with addiction and mental illness. I think about how we are all isolated now more than ever before, but some of us are doubly isolated–once by COVID-19 and once by the stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction. And I remember why places like Recovery Café Longmont are so important.
Where we go from here
The opposite of addiction is connection. The opposite of loneliness is connection. Real connection. This means having someone who genuinely cares how you are doing week after week. It means having a community that supports you where you are and also pushes you to be better. Although our physical doors are closed right now, this is what Recovery Café Longmont is continuing to offer through Zoom Recovery Circles and virtual check-ins with members. We’ve expanded the hours we’re available for phone support to Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. We want every single person who connects with us to know that we care. That they are someone worthy of love and acceptance. That we would notice if they were gone.
These are difficult times, but not hopeless ones. Connection starts with two people reaching out through the space that divides them. A community grows from there.