COVID-19 and mental health: looking after ourselves and others

On this page:

  1. Maintaining mental well-being

1.1. Caring for the whole-self during the COVID-19 pandemic

1.2. Self-care when at home alone

1.3. Supporting vulnerable adults who are at home alone

1.4. Caring for each other in families/households when confined at home

1.5. Talking with children about COVID-19

  1. Advice for clergy and church lay leaders

2.1. Self-care for clergy and lay leaders

2.2. Referring others for mental health care

  1. Going deeper

 

1. Maintaining mental well-being
COVID-19, and the measures to contain its spread, are impacting not only people’s physical health and well-being, including their livelihoods and food security, but also their mental health. The United Nations has said that the pandemic has caused widespread psychological distress across the whole world and has called on all countries to make mental health support a key part of their response to COVID-19. The international organisation United for Global Mental Health has also highlighted the wide-ranging and profound impact of COVID-19 on mental health globally, publishing this briefing.

Here we share some top tips to help people care for themselves, the people they are with and others in the wider community during these challenging times. We also provide links to resources that we have found especially helpful, which can be adapted to different contexts.

This link from the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) looks at mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. WHO posters for adults and children are in the links section on the right.

The UK-based mental health charity MIND has also produced this helpful resource: Coronavirus and your well-being, which includes practical advice on taking care of your mental health while staying at home, as well as managing feelings as lockdown eases.

The Wheaton College Humanitarian Disaster Institute has put together an extensive series of resources  in a Spiritual First Aid Hub to support church families and households, communities, clergy and volunteers who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. They provide comprehensive information from a Christian perspective, developed by academic professionals in mental health and psychology.

 

Spiritual resources: The Anglican Alliance has produced a series of bible studies called Faith in the Time of Coronavirus. These help us to place our experience of the pandemic in the context of our faith and include bible studies on issues such as calming fears and building hope, which can help strengthen our mental well-being. The bible studies can be used in the household and also in gathering with others online.

This article on ‘Keeping your mental health during the times of COVID-19’ in the Adventist Review is particularly helpful and we strongly encourage you to read it. It relates our situation during COVID-19 to Jesus’ advice in Matthew 6: 25-27 on how to overcome anxiety.

See also this ‘visual retreat’ of spiritual reflection from the Anglican Alliance with beautiful photos which give thanks for God’s creation: Calm our fears in this time of great distress. This can be downloaded as a video or Powerpoint from the resources section on the right.

 

1.1. Caring for the whole self during the COVID-19 pandemic

In this time of COVID-19 people are experiencing uncertainty and loss – loss of loved ones, loss of livelihoods, loss of connection with friends, church and community, loss of significant events, such as weddings and funerals. With so much loss and uncertainty, it is vital that we take care of our ourselves and others holistically – looking after our mental, as well as physical, well-being.  This resource on caring for the whole self from Wheaton College includes advice on maintaining routines, building personal resilience, remaining connected with others, practising self-compassion, and sustaining hope.

 1.2. Self-care when at home alone

These tips for dealing with loneliness and isolation from the Church of England include advice such as:

  • Light a candle, if safe, and pray for hope, faith and strength to keep loving and caring for each other during this time of COVID-19.
  • Talk about how you feel. This may be difficult if you are self-isolating, but try to use the telephone, internet, etc. to stay connected.
  • Focus on the things that you can change, not on the things you can’t.
  • Look after yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually.Plan in things that you enjoy at regular intervals during the day.
  • Look after others. Even if only in small ways, but do what you can:a smile, a kind word, calling or connecting online.

1.3. Supporting vulnerable adults who are at home alone

Older adults and single people with health issues who may already struggle with loneliness now face even greater stress and fear when being told by governments to self-isolate on the basis that they are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. We can, however, remain closely connected with these vulnerable adults even while physical distancing. We can connect by phone or online as a regular routine, praying and reading scripture together, asking about their memories and sharing stories. As lockdown eases, it is also possible to visit while following distancing guidelines. While many communities have volunteer organisations to help homebound elderly and vulnerable adults with practical needs such as food and medicine deliveries, it is also important to remember their mental well-being by connecting and reassuring them. This resource from Wheaton College has further information.

1.4. Caring for each other in families/households when confined at home

When staying at home it is helpful to create space for the family/household members to share their feelings, and to plan together how to maintain a balanced approach to life, where work, rest and worship are woven into a daily pattern or routine.

Living together as a family or household it is good to encourage others and highlight when someone does something kind for another. It is also important to spend time reflecting together on things causing worry and anxiety. Each person could say or write a list of their worries and then discuss together which of these worries is out of the individual’s or family’s control. These worries can be brought to God in prayer and then we can try to let go, while we focus on those things that we can address.  Also see the Anglican Alliance bible studies on calming fears and building hope.

1.5.  Talking with children about COVID-19

While we may want to avoid talking with our children about the pandemic, they will already be aware through hearing the news, listening to adults around them and through changes to school and home patterns. It is important to talk with children so that they can feel secure rather than fearful.  Psychology Today gives advice on how to talk to children about COVID-19, including:

  • Prepare yourself by recognising and processing your own feelings so you can then focus on the children’s needs and feelings.
  • Be hopeful by highlighting what has helped the family to find strength in past challenges, while also being honest about the situation
  • Use age-appropriate language, talking with children as children.
  • Provide reassurance that adults are managing the situation: it is not the children’s responsibility.
  • Try to maintain routines for day-to-day life as this helps children to feel more secure.
  • Discuss what the children are hearing – affirm their feelings, help to fill any knowledge gaps and answer any questions.
  • Monitor and limit media exposure, especially for very young children. Listening to news of radio, TV or online can be frightening. Monitor children’s use of social networking sites, depending on their age and tackle unhelpful or false information they find online.

 

2. Advice for Clergy and lay church leaders:

 2.1.  Self-care for clergy, lay church leaders and relief and development workers:

This time of COVID-19 has greatly increased levels of stress and anxiety in the wider population. Clergy and lay church leaders are therefore facing far greater pastoral care demands from their communities, whilst also seeking to maintain the church’s worshipping life in wholly new circumstances. This in turn brings greater stress to the clergy and lay church leaders. Meanwhile those involved in community relief and development work face far greater strains as people lose their livelihoods and turn to them for help. In order to meet and sustain these increased levels of need in others, it is vital that clergy and other church leaders take care of themselves and their own needs.

The Church of England has issued guidance for church leaders on mental health and wellbeing during Coronavirus. This offers advice on the kinds of mental health issues that people in their communities might be experiencing as well as being aware of the church leaders’ own mental health and well-being issues and how to care for themselves.

Prolonged stress with excessive demands made upon us puts us at risk of burnout, which is a state of exhaustion emotionally, physically and spiritually.  When we face threats and extreme challenges the stress reaction can be physical as well as mental, leading to anxiety, sleeplessness, feeling overwhelmed by pressure. This in turn can lead to withdrawal, depression and feeling discouraged and hopeless. It is vital to recognise, prevent and treat burnout as it drains our energy and can, in extreme cases, result in a full collapse. We need to understand the difference between stress and signs of burnout.

There is a range of useful resources from Wheaton College, including:

Pastors and Disasters, a resource developed by relief and development teams around the Anglican Communion with Episcopal Relief & Development, includes guidelines on caring for staff and clergy responding to disasters. This can also be downloaded from the resources section.

 

2.2. Referring others for mental health care

It is also important to recognise when professional help is needed for someone in your care with mental health needs. For many people, COVID-19 has been experienced as a traumatic event, like other disasters. Many people have lost their livelihoods, had their lives severely disrupted or faced bereavement – all leading to great stress and anxiety. If a person had an existing mental illness, then the anxieties of this time of COVID-19 may have exacerbated that.

Those who have been seriously ill with COVID-19 may have particular mental health needs. Those who have been in hospital and especially those admitted to intensive care units may, on recovery, suffer from anxiety, depression and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Someone with PTSD may have nightmares and flashbacks reliving the trauma. They may have problems sleeping and find it difficult to concentrate. They may also feel isolated, irritable and even guilty that they have survived when others have not. These symptoms may be severe enough to impact seriously on people’s lives.  In these cases, people will need love and support from their families and friends and to be referred for specialist help, where available. Wheaton College has this resource on how to refer someone for mental health care from a licensed mental health professional. This includes advice on how to establish whether someone needs help, the kinds of conversations to have with them, and some useful checklists:

 

3. Going deeper

For mental health professionals and those who want to study further, here are some additional resources:

  • A weekly webinar looking at the latest evidence on the impact of COVID-019 on mental health and how to address it is convened jointly by United for Global Mental Health, the Lancet Psychiatry, the Mental Health Innovation Network and the Mental Health & Psychosocial Support Network. More details, recordings of the webinars held to date and sign up here.
  • The World Health Organisation’s Psychological First Aid: A guide for field workers (2011) is available in multiple languages.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has developed a COVID-19 Information and Resources Toolkit for the USA, but with relevance for other contexts.