Shortly after many college students in North Carolina returned to campus, they returned home as schools shifted to online learning amid outbreaks of COVID-19. The scene was reminiscent of last spring, when students had their semesters cut short.
Recent events have increased college students’ need for mental health care due to all the uncertainty, disruptions and isolation they’ve experienced over the last few months.
College students aren’t the only ones affected by these issues. Our communities have also been rattled by lack of routine, job insecurity and fear of an unknown future.
What can your church be doing to care for the mental health of those in your community? Following are three suggestions to consider.
Care for those in isolation.
When someone is forced to isolate at home because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, they suddenly can’t grocery shop or pick up a book or board game at the store. Some have been living this way for months because of a pre-existing condition. Research suggests that signs of PTSD and depression can increase after a medically related quarantine, even if only for a few weeks.
Does your church have a plan in place to care for those who’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are forced to isolate at home? Something as small as a care package with pizza delivery gift cards, books and handwritten notes can alleviate some of the frustrations that come with isolation. Knowing that someone sees and understands their situation can provide great comfort when life is disrupted.
Know the signs of someone in a mental health crisis.
Some experts are anticipating the mental health effects of this pandemic to last much longer than the physical effects. Stress, fear, sadness and hopelessness are all emotions many of us feel at some point in our lives. When these emotions reach a level beyond what would be considered a normal response to life circumstances, someone may be in a mental health crisis.
How can you train staff, small group leaders or members of your church to recognize the signs in those in their community and to respond appropriately? If you’re still conducting virtual or distanced gatherings, how can you make sure your people maintain a sense of community?
Create a network of trusted professionals.
Often talking with a trained counselor is the best course of action for someone in a mental health crisis. While we are called to bear one another’s burdens, there are times when carrying the weight of someone else’s mental health is neither helpful nor appropriate.
Find trusted counselors, either within your church or in your community, that you can recommend to anyone in need. Having contacts easily accessible ensures you can respond immediately to a crisis.
Find ways that your church can continue to bear the burdens of these individuals outside of counseling, such as providing transportation to counseling or hosting them in your home for a meal.
Watch how one church came alongside a struggling church member below.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Alex Hugo is a consultant for collegiate partnerships with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. This article originally appeared at ncbaptist.org.)