COVID-19, Mental Health, the Churches, and God

Friends, I first published a version of this article on April 17. I checked the original recently, and some aspects of the websites I mention have changed. This update should be useful a bit longer than my original post.

Maybe you’ve been managing, but recently your thoughts and impulses are turning in directions that aren’t so great. Maybe you’re struggling with something you thought you had finished with: depression, anxiety, OCD, temptation to resort to alcohol or another substance. For an old struggle to rise up again is a pretty normal response to stress. But maybe you would like a little help with the battle brewing in your head. If something is troubling you, don’t keep it to yourself. Call somebody.

So what kinds of help are available?

Help from the State

I ran a search for “COVID-19, mental health, Massachusetts.” As I expected the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is all over this. There are many pages of resources and advice.  Currently, the landing page has this title: “Maintaining Emotional Health & Well-Being During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” However, that title may change. So click this link and see what’s available. The page lists websites and hotlines.

Help from the Churches

Belief and spiritual seeking do not replace professional mental health care, and any church that claims it can do that is telling you a lie. But churches should respond to the spiritual hunger that can suffuse mental pain.

Where Can You Find Church Information?

The first line of communication is the sermon, which members these days hear online. A sermon comes from a spiritual leader, it’s not through an impersonal web page like that of the Commonwealth. Individual ministers may be preaching wonderful sermons that address this issue, but it is hard to identify them through a web search. Then, there are emails, newsletters, Facebook pages, and other online resources provided by individual churches. So, after sermons, web links are a lower-frequency way of receiving information for people who are already involved.

But what if you don’t usually go to church? Where would you look? You’d look at church websites, right?

I ran some searches to see what’s on offer.

Episcopal Church, Diocese of Massachusetts

Search terms: covid-19, mental health, “Diocese of Massachusetts”  

Both in April and today, the result of this search is a page called “COVID-19 Updates and Resources,” which provides many links that are pretty well named. Mental health is listed at the bottom of the page, with a link to many more resources.

There are a lot of good resources on the mental health page. Because the Diocese lists them, I assume someone has vetted them and they are of good quality. Pluck up your courage and try one of them. If it doesn’t work out, try another. Keep trying.

United Methodist Church in New England

Search terms: covid-19, mental health, “United Methodist Church”, Massachusetts

That search produces a page titled Responding to coronavirus. It’s a long page of issues and resources, like the Episcopal page a real grab bag.

There is a small section on coping with anxiety, no mention of other mental health issues. Fairly skimpy treatment.

Lutheran Church, New England Synod (ELCA)

Search terms: covid-19, “mental health”, ELCA, Lutheran, “New England”

Result: New England Synod. This was kind of a mixed bag, too, even though the page is elegant and orderly. It took me a while to recognize that the very first link in the upper left is devoted to COVID-19, because my attention immediately jumped to the big photo.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much for a person who is looking for personal help, at least nothing that is easily findable.

If you dig a little more in the ELCA Lutheran world (ELCA is a Lutheran church; there are various branches of Lutheranism), you can find a page about public health on the national ELCA site. I’ll give you the link, if you’re interested, but I’m sorry, it doesn’t provide anything useful. If you’re curious, here it is.

The curious thing is, back in April, that national page had something called Here to Serve, which provided an email address and a phone number, with the explanation that the ELCA churchwide organization is here to support our members, congregations, synods and partners. Call … for prayer, support and to ask your questions.

I thought — and think– that that was terrific. Here’s a whole church saying

Darlin’ —
Reach out!
Call my name!
I’ll be there!

For a big institution to be that nimble is unusual. I recently emailed to see if the email address was still active; the answer was that it was offered in the early weeks of the pandemic, and initially both the email address and phone number received a lot of use. Now, the demand is much lower, and questions will be handled through other venues. The email address and phone number will be retired.

The other treatments of mental health on the national website were pretty general in nature. I think your best bet is the resources listed by the Episcopalians, above.

Of course there are many more churches; these are just the ones I am most familiar with. So if those churches are too far out of your range of reference, look at your preferred church and don’t give up.

Here, friend. Right now, have a spiritual resource that combines mental health and God:

O God, help my mind. Give me calm. Give me strength and focus so that I can ask for help and keep asking until I receive it. Don’t leave me. Amen.

I made that prayer up; you know that you can say your own, in your own words, too.

July 4, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths

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