As the pandemic has progressed, it’s become harder to ignore its impact on our wellbeing. We may have endured significant losses, such as bereavement, or longer periods of isolation. Some of us may have found our caring responsibilities changing too.
Throughout our friendship groups and family networks, there will be stories of endured the disappointments of separation; missed children and grandchildren’s birthdays. Those of us who are newly retired, may have envisaged a very different experience than the one available. We have experienced a level of uncertainty and disruption to our daily rhythms. As I speak to groups on this topic, most will admit; ‘I still don’t quite feel right.’ I like, others, have been surprised at the impact this far in. I hadn’t realised how important a regular holiday was to maintain my wellbeing until the possibility was removed. And others have had it tougher. If we live with a health condition that puts us at risk, we might be feeling a new level of vulnerability as we gauge the balance of connecting with others with trying to keep ourselves safe and well.
Mental Health Challenges on the Rise
There’s more. Steadily, we have seen a continual growth in the number of reported mental health challenges requiring active help. Many of us are part of a generation raised on a mindset of resilience, and we have not stopped serving and helping in our communities. For some, there have been seasons of great connection and purpose. Yet increasing numbers of us are experiencing anxiety and depression, and other complex challenges. Those of us who have previously struggled in this area will have faced new challenges in this past season. Collectively, we are discovering that it’s no longer sufficient to just focus ahead, as we look to brighter days. Optimism has a shorter shelf- life, it would seem. It soon fades if our period of difficulty becomes extended. We need to draw from deeper roots. In a collective trauma such as this, it will take us time to recover. In the words of Dr Naomi Rachel Remen:
“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water and not get wet.”
Collective trauma is a phenomenon occurs when a community is impacted by a series of adverse events. Not all of us will be equally impacted- our experiences throughout covid have been very diverse. Some of us even report improved wellbeing. Yet, if we think about our responsibility to one another, we can recognise that we might all have a role in responding, even as we live with the adverse impacts.
To recover from collective trauma, community reconnection is a vital part and rebuilding together. If we’ve fallen out of the habit- this might seem like an effort. For those of us in faith communities- we have an important task ahead. We need to get together to share our experiences and look ahead. Our first task in this may be to mourn, listen and celebrate together. We need to make sure no-one is left behind. Yet it is also true that many of us who have been serving throughout the 2 years are weary and are in need of rest. A consistent picture Sanctuary hear from churches is that the need is seen, yet many are at capacity. Churches have served their communities tirelessly.
Talk of a mental health crisis may feel paralysing if we’re tired. It’s vital that our initiatives help us all- by supporting and resourcing leaders and members rather than creating extra burdens.
The Sanctuary Course offers a way to recover together. It’s free- a small group course which helps churches explore mental health through the eyes of faith. Written by experts, with stories of real lives, it offers the best way to learn about mental health to support one another. Our patron, Justin Welby says ‘Sanctuary’s resources are particularly needed as we recover from the pandemic. I would encourage Christians to seek out the Sanctuary Course and run it in their community.’ We invite you to prayerfully join us on the journey. You’ll find many other free resources to help you and your church to support mental health and wellbeing.
Corin Pilling is UK Director of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries
9 May 2022