From the Pastor’s Desk

This Sunday in the United Church of Christ is the recognition and praying for those who suffer from a mental illness.  This post, found on UCC.org was written by Rev. Alan Johnson, Chair, UCC Mental Health Network

        We all know there continues to be a significant impact by the coronavirus around the world. Seeking to contain this virus has lead to cancellations of many programs, travels, work schedules, and social and personal disturbances. As a member of the UCC Mental Health Network, I want to offer some suggestions about a mental health perspective. 
        Assuming that you are staying in touch with the updates from the health care organizations, you find guidelines for taking care of yourself, given this pandemic. For instance, the most updated information comes from Cdc.gov/coronavirus. From one perspective, many are equally concerned about the growing isolation which might be growing given the cancellations of so many events. We know of many congregations that are now deciding not to gather in person for worship but rather live-streaming the services, a way to connect people in very different ways. We know of some mental health support groups are also using Zoom for people to be connected in a very different way. We gather that there are people in our congregations who are aware of those who are dealing with a mental health challenge, people who need to be connected in direct and personal ways. Through the use of the telephone, emails, or Skype, there can be these means of breaking that isolation. It needs to be intentional, and it strengthens connections. 

I. “The advice experts give to a person with a diagnosed anxiety disorder is mostly the same. It is also true for those who have freaked out after they’ve binged too much cable news.

  • Maintain your routines as much as possible.
  • Avoid crowds, but don’t isolate yourself.
  • Sleep, because it’s suitable for your immune system.
  • Eat healthy food; don’t stress-eat junk.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol — or coffee.
  • Exercise: It’s calming and may boost immune function.
  • Get news only from reliable sources, and don’t become absorbed in the coverage for long periods.
  • Take breaks; play a game; watch a movie; take a yoga class. Try a meditation app; anything that will get your focus off the blather.
  • If all of this fails, seek help. Many websites have resources for anxiety disorders, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) Anxiety and Depression Association of America, (apaa.org.) Many therapists offer counseling via phone or video conference, so patients don’t need to leave their homes.”

“All of those things are practically useful, but probably even more important, they confer a sense of control when we feel more helpless.”

 II. “There are many things you can do to support your child:

  • Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand.
  • Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know if it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the event. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Help your child to have a sense of structure. Once it is safe to return to school or child care, help them back to their regular activity.
  • Be a role model; take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system..”

 III. “It is normal to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed as we read news about the outbreak. It is especially true if you have experienced trauma or a mental health problem in the past. Additionally, if you have a long-term physical health condition that makes you more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus.

  • “It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and remind each other to look after our physical and mental health. We should also be aware of and avoid increasing habits that may not be helpful in the long term, like smoking and drinking.  
  • “Try and reassure people you know who may be worried and check in with people who you know are living alone. 
  • “Stigma and xenophobia are two aspects of the societal impacts of pandemic infectious outbreaks. Unfortunately, many Chinese individuals have been shunned and ridiculed because the coronavirus started in “their country.” Chinese restaurants in major U.S. cities have lost business. Xenophobia against individuals of Asian descent because of this virus has not gone unnoticed. This is hate and racism to the core.” 

Perhaps you are finding trusted and authentic ways or even new ways for you to live through these days and weeks of uncertainty about the coronavirus. Do not be silent if you find yourself withdrawing and confused. Reach out. Ask others to hear you as you listen to them. Ask for God’s compassion to be by your side. Even in the darkest valley, the light of Christ will shine upon us as we walk faithfully. 
 Rev. Alan Johnson

Chair, UCC Mental Health Network