-by Evita Morin, CEO
When we choose to no longer hide whatever it is that we struggle with, there is tremendous relief. We can be supported. We can get help. We learn that we are no longer alone. And we aren’t. We are in this together. Life is hard. Sometimes it is unbearable. But with openness and love together we can move from darkness and suffering to light, hope, and healing.
-David Sheff

The medical community is enlisting resources from every health professional in every corner of the nation to support the COVID-19 physical health crisis. Our focus on addressing the immediate physical health of those exposed to COVID-19 is critical and necessary.

As a behavioral health care leader, my colleagues and I have deep concern for the assured second wave of health-related issues caused by COVID-19: the forecasted mental health and substance use crisis to follow. The social service nonprofits, especially those providing mental and behavioral health support, will be responsible for “cleaning up the aftermath” from the devastation of this economic and health crisis.

Common risk factors for these problems include stressful life situations such as financial problems, traumatic life experiences, abuse or neglect. Our city leaders acknowledge the shared experiences of major stressors in these times: loss of employment, loss of social supports, loss of safe places to avoid abusive situations and even the loss of loved ones to this virus.

This is not just a concern for people in active recovery fearing relapse; this is also a concern for people who have not yet experienced addiction but may begin misusing drugs or alcohol, or engaging in other behaviors to cope with unusually stressful times.

Community mental health leaders predict the financial, physical and social strain to compound all risk factors, resulting in a mental health crisis we as a community are not yet equipped or resourced to manage.

Our nonprofit sector feels many of the stressors individual clients are suffering. Donor-driven social service nonprofits rely heavily on donor support to provide low and no-cost healthcare to vulnerable populations and those without insurance. With so many people in economic instability, few feel capable of giving to causes they dutifully contributed to before. We have both an essential responsibility to serve, and are yet without adequate funds to sustain our efforts. Many of our missions anticipate a 30-50% drop in revenue but an unprecedented growth in vulnerable populations.

Taking every day in this crisis one day at a time, the mental health and substance use recovery community is still open for business, even though it looks significantly different than it did four weeks ago. Treatment centers, recovery support services, 12-step resources, and individuals that have been successful in their own recovery are available and eager to help guide whoever is struggling in the right direction towards support. A great place to start is the 24-Hour Recovery Helpline, a United Way-funded initiative providing resources and guidance to countywide care based on the specific addiction-related need. The number to call is 210-927-4644.

Before COVID-19 stressors, 10% of the population struggled with an addiction issue nationally. Someday, when our “non-essential” businesses begin to reopen, a number of those who found recovery may be in relapse, and a number of people who misused substances or coped in dysfunctional ways to fend the global stressors may now be in addiction and suffering from untreated trauma, depression and anxiety.

Like those recovering directly from COVID-19, these are people who need help to recover their health, re-enter the workforce, and restore their roles as productive members of our society.

For businesses that are currently shuttered, consider sharing the helpline with your former or furloughed employees now and again when you rebuild your workforce. It may not be immediately clear who needs help but it is a recognition to your work family that despite difficult decisions, you care about their welfare. Doing this is an investment in your people and the continued success of their employment and your business.

In order for nonprofits to successfully provide services after this crisis, they must be able to remain intact now, to keep minds and behaviors healthy and focused on self-care, not self-destruction, during this crisis. A few sectors continue to thrive due to the shifts and focus on homesteading, healthcare, infrastructure and technology. If you are employed or are an employer and have the opportunity to step up, support, and sustain these nonprofits now, you are helping the rest of our economically depressed workforce stand strong when the time comes to need them back in the workforce.

A new universal tax break for charitable donations was included in the final federal COVID-19 stimulus package. Non-itemizing donors can now take a charitable income tax deduction for up to $300 for cash donations made this year. Whatever your circumstances today, I urge you to share or take advantage of this benefit.

As we all recognize the fleeting nature of material things in this depth of waiting and protecting one another, milestones we normally gathered to celebrate will come and go.

If you have a special date coming up, like a birthday or anniversary, consider making your mark against COVID-19 with a social media charity fundraiser in lieu of gifts.

Together, we can keep our social services supported for the most in need. We all benefit from this investment in the end. When the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” declaration is lifted, our community deserves the physical and behavioral health support to be ready to work, rebuild, and thrive.
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