My wife, Elba, and I took a short walk around our neighborhood while keeping a healthy dose of social distancing from the few others who also ventured into what appears to be a very different world.
Just four weeks ago, we were in San Diego, United States, for a lovely time of rest. We then flew to Argentina to celebrate my mother’s 100th birthday, and it seems that as we were up in the air, the entire world turned upside down. We were the last group of passengers to get through without being asked to quarantine.
As we were preparing my mother’s birthday, we learned that it was advised that we leave the country. Just a few hours later, we found ourselves on a return flight surrounded by people donning face masks and getting screened upon arrival. And that was only the beginning.
How has your life changed? For the most part, we have to learn to live with the fear of contracting this ferocious virus while having to adjust to one of the most precious human needs: closeness with family and friends.
Others struggle beyond that. Our daughter, who is a medical doctor training in psychiatry at the Loma Linda University hospital, told us that many desperate people are arriving at the emergency room considering suicide. The cumulative impact of job losses, not being able to pay rent, searching for a place to live, and symptoms that mimic COVID-19 pushed some of the most vulnerable over the edge.
What might your mental health look like after the pandemic? Well, it is already tough as it is. A poll conducted by the highly respected Kaiser Family Foundation found that the levels of stress affecting the people in the United States jumped from 32 percent in early March to 45 percent by the end of the month. From previous disasters, we know that the real and lasting emotional impact becomes more evident after the event is over. It is reported that China, now emerging from the pandemic, has seen a significant spike in divorces. A rippling effect on emotional problems is likely to ensue.
While no one is immune to emotional distress, who might be more vulnerable? The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the groups below as populations at a higher risk.
You may wonder, for instance, why women or health-care workers would be more vulnerable. For women, some countries are reporting an increased level of domestic violence while in isolation. Health-care workers are witnessing horrifying scenes and, on top of that, have become the new “lepers” — people see them as potential carriers of COVID–19 and therefore avoid them, creating even more isolation.
How would you know if your current distress may turn into something of concern?
Naturally, how you experience the emotional toll from the pandemic may be different from what is suggested above. Common reactions can include:
How can you protect your mental health even if isolated?
If it is hard for you to control your worrying, try the recommendations drawn from Matthew 6.
Help is available through many Christian counselors, who are available online. Reach out. There is no fear, there is no shame in doing so. Remember that even Jesus Himself cried out when He was suffering (Matt. 27:46).
One of the most challenging situations this pandemic may generate is a sense of despair for those who, for multiple reasons, may find themselves thinking that life is not worth living. While they need immediate treatment, which you should urge, you may find a way to minister to them as well.
How might you minister to those in distress?
If the person has expressed suicidal ideas:
Start with the present: “How do you feel?”
Acknowledge the person’s feelings: “You look sad/ upset. I want to ask you a few questions about it.”
“How do you see your future?”
“What are your hopes for the future?”
“Some people with similar problems have told me that they felt life was not worth living. Do you go to sleep wishing that you might not wake up in the morning?”
“Do you think about hurting yourself?”
“Have you made any plans to end your life? If so, how are you planning to do it?”
“Do you have the means to end your life? Have you considered when to do it?”
“Have you ever attempted suicide?”
If the person has expressed suicidal ideas:
The pandemic will be over. Hopefully, your life will go back to normal. Will you be able to look back on this time as a series of moments that strengthened your faith, made you more compassionate and generous, and willing to lend a helping hand to others?
If your emotional life does not go back to normal, know that you remain under the tender gaze of your heavenly Father and that there is help for you. Your church is becoming more attuned to the emotional needs of members and the communities it serves. Seek the help you need.
May your prayers for all of us lead us to know that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear” (Ps. 46:1, 2).