City of Burlington to address mental health, drug addiction help

Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 1:03 AM EDT
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The city of Burlington will host its first-ever virtual mental health and addiction town hall on Thursday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The town hall will be held via Zoom. Five panelists will discuss the resources available to those seeking sobriety and some of the challenges they may be facing as the stay-at-home order is in effect.

Local experts say every person’s journey to recovery is different so a challenge for one person may not difficult for the next. Overall, recovery coaches say having to seek help and resources online may not have the same effects for some people as in-person services.

“If I'm not able to shake the person's hand, if I'm not able to be within that six-foot radius of a person, I still feel isolated. I still feel sort of left alone,” said Cameron Lauf, a recovery coach at the Turning Point Center.

Lauf has been in recovery for six years. The 28-year-old says he started using drugs and binge-drinking alcohol when he was about 11 to cope with childhood trauma. At age 22, he got addicted to heroin.

"That was it. That was that sense of euphoria, that sense of peace that I was looking for,” said Lauf.

When he decided to get clean, he found the help he needed.

"I could every day of the week go to a meeting and talk to other people in recovery. If I was struggling, I could have that face-to-face interaction which is what I needed. I needed to feel that I wasn't alone,” Lauf told WCAX News.

Now, as a recovery coach, Lauf acknowledges it's different for those seeking help in the middle of a global pandemic. He says being forced to stay at home can be daunting especially if home is where someone started using substances and alcohol.

“And then they have to unlearn that behavior in the same environment with the same stimulus and the same triggers. It's difficult,” Lauf explained.

The temptation of relapsing is one reason Turning Point Center executive director Gary De Carolis is stressing physical distancing over social distancing.

“For people in recovery, isolation is the worst thing you could want to have happen. It's a time when people need to be reaching out, get support for what they're doing. It's a real community. It's not just one person by themselves,” he said.

Although things are changing, recovery coaches want to reassure those seeking help that it's still there.

“The safety net is still there. It just doesn't look the same. So trust in the process. Trust that there is still support still in place,” said Lauf.

De Carolis will be one of the five panelists at Thursday’s town hall. Jackie Corbally, the high-risk behavior operations manager at the Burlington Police Department, is another panelist. She says the panel will also address other social issues that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

"How this is affecting not only adults at home but young people, children. We're also paying attention to domestic and sexual violence calls and really paying attention to ensuring that if those individuals, survivors, are looking for help that we are there as a community to answer that call,” she said.

Corbally says there has been an uptick in calls for depression and anxiety. De Coralis says the number of people seeking help at the Turning Point Center has gone down from 3,000 to about 500.

The town hall will begin at noon.