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The pandemic is exacerbating depression and addiction. How to help

September is National Recovery Month, and this particular September there are a number of folks on my mind who are desperate for a recovery. Whether it’s a violent childhood, drug or alcohol addiction, sexual abuse, toxic relationships, or trauma, many of our friends and neighbors are fighting an internal battle; and they need us to meet them at the front-lines. 

Matthew Barnett, co-founder of the LA Dream Center.
Matthew Barnett, co-founder of the LA Dream Center. | Facebook/Matthew Barnett

Janet, a young lady here in Los Angeles, knows this first hand. When she arrived here at the LA Dream Center, she revealed that she grew up in a toxic, violent home. Her father was a drug addict who was abusive towards her mother and then eventually to Janet herself. “I grew up used, neglected, abandoned, corrupted and twisted,” she told us. 

Those words break my heart. 

At the innocent age of 12, Janet turned to heavy drinking and prescription pills to try and numb her deep pain. This spiraled into a meth addiction and a horrendous relationship with another meth addict. “I’ll never forget when he kept me locked in his room for two months with little food and water,” Janet went on to tell us. “I was broken and my soul was damaged. I lost custody of my three children, my house, my car, and I almost lost my life by trying to commit suicide several times.”

I’m happy to report that Janet’s story doesn’t end like this. She reached out to us for help, was healed of her addiction, and is now thanking God for a new lease on life. She’s even looking forward to being reunited with her children some day soon.

Janet made it out of a terrible situation because she was willing to admit she couldn’t do it on her own.

Recovery from a myriad of challenging circumstances is possible, but it can't be done alone. Leaving the past behind and embracing a bright future is an even steeper climb than usual nowadays with a pandemic in the way as well. With enforced social distancing, job losses, or juggling work and a child’s remote learning at the same time, more Americans are looking to coping mechanisms — dangerous ones — in a desperate attempt to manage stress and loneliness. In late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicide ideation associated with COVID-19, according to a recent CDC report. September is also National Suicide Prevention Month, and I’m pleading with every American to gain a deeper understanding of the causes and signs of suicide, especially today with added stresses and triggers.

Check in with anyone you know who’s facing an extra hurdle these days. Be intentional with your conversations and your influence, as quite often those who are currently experiencing depression, anxiety, or overwhelming grief and fear are hesitant to admit it. 

I hear stories like Janet’s all the time, unfortunately. But my biggest fear right now are the stories I’m not hearing about, because of hurting souls hiding their pain. 

We also need to remember to do a self check in and ensure that we’re mentally and emotionally healthy ourselves. If not, take the step of opening up to those you trust. The mind and heart are complex, and when they falter, they can affect every facet of our lives. Plus, you can’t give what you don’t have. So if we want to pour out hope, love and encouragement to others, we have to make sure it’s wholly within us first.

Take a moment today and have the hard conversations that will prevent pain and anxiety from spiraling into addiction and suicide. Being proactive could save a life.

Matthew Barnett is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Dream Center and senior pastor of Angelus Temple. The Los Angeles Dream Center is a faith-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of individuals and families in Los Angeles through residential and outreach programs.

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