NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Staying at home is, by nature, isolating. That’s the point of it — to isolate from others and stay healthy. However, isolation can mean desolation for those struggling with mental health or addiction.
“It’s difficult enough when everything is going well to be able to help people that have emotional needs, some mental behavioral issues, people that do have substance abuse issues. It’s tough enough to be able to reach them, to bring them into a place where they can get the assistance they need, to be able to work with them and build that relationship. Now we are isolated, other than through technology,” said Reverend David Lima, Executive Minister of Inter-church Council of Greater New Bedford.
Eyewitness News held a virtual panel discussion with Rev. Lima and Connie Rocha-Mimosa, the director of community health services at Seven Hills Behavioral Health as well as Carl Alves, the president/CEO of PAACA (Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction).
They said they have teams out every day reaching out to those most vulnerable in the community who need help the most. An additional struggle now is for staff to do that safely themselves — wearing the proper PPE and social distancing from those they’re trying to help. Staff will bring food, essentials, even naloxone in sanitized brown bags to the vulnerable communities.
“It really has become a more complex outreach than before when before our job was to recruit them to our place and give them information, connect them to services,” Rocha-Mimosa said. Now it has become this complex, multi outreach where we are trying to make sure people are safe while they’re using because people are still using and we have to be mindful of that that not everybody’s ready to make a change during a crisis like that. So while using, they’re putting themselves at risk of overdoses and exposure to COVID-19.”
Rocha-Mimosa added her teams are doing 15-18 hours a day of outreach in southeastern Massachusetts.
Inpatient and outpatient services are still available. Suboxone treatment is at the ready, and Rocha-Mimosa said sometimes, people are able to take that treatment at home.
Treatment beds for recovery are available, too, says Alves. “In some of the treatment centers…[they] have added longer-term bed stays so they have a level of care so people can stay with them longer.”
In addition to addiction concerns, there’s also the concern over people who are at home and suffering from depression. The experts said it was too soon to be able to look at suicide rates during this difficult time, but they were sure that the isolation was causing depression.
“I probably am more concerned than anything else is that person that is so isolated and nobody is connected with them and/or realizing where they are. There is help but you got to reach out,” Rev. Lima said.
Alves added that the best piece of advice is to reach out to family and friends you haven’t heard from in a few days — you could quite literally save a life.