'The Costs of COVID-19' Part 3: Mental health, addiction

Throughout the month of November, ABC57 Investigates is introducing a new series called ‘The Costs of COVID-19’. Part 3 focused on the ‘unseen costs’ in adults, including the toll on mental health and addiction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most vulnerable population are those who may have never struggled with mental health before, according to experts.

‘Part 3’ brings you one local man’s story and his fight to get help.

“I’m just Jack to all of them,” Granger resident Jack Gibboney said.

To his friends and family, 75-year-old Michiana native Jack Gibboney is kind and caring, but dive deeper and a man you might not expect to struggle with mental health, openly does.

"A lot of people, including me at one time, don’t realize they’re depressed and thinking, ‘well, I’m having a bad day today, everybody has a bad day,’” Gibboney said.

One bad day turned to many and now Jack is sharing his struggles hoping others will understand that it is okay to seek help.

“I have experience in being depressed and that’s not the kind of experience one wants,” Gibboney said.

Mental health experts believe the rise in mental health issues and new patients dealing with problems for the first time can be directly contributed to COVID-19 and what is necessary to keep the disease away.

Words such as quarantining, social distancing and working from home have dominated 2020. Precautions that are necessary to prevent the spread, but actions that are also hurting mental health.

“We knew when the pandemic hit that is a recipe for disaster in regards to mental health and addiction recovery,” Addiction Therapist at Oaklawn and Bashor Children’s Home John Gallagher said.

As of mid-July, more than half of Americans (53%) believe the pandemic has had a negative impact on their lives, according to Gallagher.

“And some of the most concrete negative consequences we’ve experienced, is that there has been an increase in overdose deaths related to drug and alcohol abuse and there’s been an increase in suicide,” Gallagher said. “And this is something that is national that we’re experiencing, but it’s something that we’ve been experiencing in our community.”

Jack’s recovery was considered successful. He was sober for six years, retired for 12 and donating his free time to the local food bank, until the pandemic hit.

 “I wasn’t allowed to go to the food bank at the advice of my doctors. I couldn’t go out to restaurants,” Gibboney said. “And basically, I had to stay home and look out the window. That really got to me.”

After days of loneliness at home, Jack started drinking again.

“I started cheating again, meaning falling off the bandwagon and it was noticeable by my family, my friends and I knew I was in trouble,” Gibboney said.

Jack took action, first speaking to his therapist by phone and eventually doing group sessions.

“And then a few weeks ago, members of the group tested positive for COVID-19,” Gibboney said.

Jack decided to stop going, hoping to keep his risk of getting coronavirus at a minimum, but also making his mental health worse.

“I literally would sit in my living room, staring out the window thinking,” Gibboney said.

For some people, that feeling does not stop with thinking. Mental health experts believe that people could start behaving in a worse way.

“That population is most at risk for suicide, and drug overdose and death,” Gallagher said.

So what is the solution? Gallagher and Oaklawn believe change can start with how things are worded during this pandemic.

“I propose that we change the language from social distancing to what I see is more factual—what we’re talking about is physically distancing,” Gallagher said. “The last message we want to send people is to socially distance themselves, because from a mental health standpoint, from a mental health recovery standpoint, we want people to be social, particularly during this devastating time.”

Gallagher believes technology is a game changer in how patients could be treated. The most recent advance is telemedicine—a way for patients to video chat with their doctors.

It does have some downfalls, according to Gallagher.

“I have noticed in my experience, a higher number of patients discontinuing attendance and treatment,” Gallagher said.

Oaklawn has noticed more people are opting for this method because they can speak with someone face to face, even if it is virtual.

“I’ve had friends of mine even say to me, you’re different,” Gibboney said. “What? What are you doing that’s different? And I’ll say, ‘Well, I’m going through therapy.”

Jack is still on his road to recovery, a tough road, but he hopes sharing his decades of experience will be a wake-up call for anyone dealing with addiction.

“I do not hide the fact that I've been treated, because it gives me some more accountability,” Gibboney said. “And will I fall off the wagon again, I can't make any promises. If I do, I'll get back up and get on again. That's what people need to do. It's treatable. And you can overcome it.”

Whether you have or have not been diagnosed before, Gallagher and Gibboney want you to know you are not alone and there are resources available in the Michiana community.

For Oaklawn, click here.

For National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, click here.

For more on addiction and mental health, click here.

For more information on dual diagnoses for mental health issues, click here.

We are trying to help solve the tough problems impacting your life, so if you have a story you want investigated, just send an email to [email protected]

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