COVID–19 and Mental Health

Dec 21, 2022

By Warren L. Maye

The onslaught of COVID–19 has forced everyone to shelter in place and to worry about the ever–present danger of life–threatening illness and mortality. The harsh reality of disrupted routines, important but cancelled plans, collapsed social structures, and the loss of loved ones has plummeted some hearts and minds into a turbulent abyss.  

"They wonder if the pandemic is a sign that we are seeing the beginning of the end times,"  said Major Samuel Gonzalez, Hispanic Ministries Director for The Salvation Army in the USA Eastern Territory. Gonzalez knows that such ideas are taken seriously in communities that have already been hit by poverty and want. 

Now as a result of this global outbreak, Gonzalez believes that many people will suffer a post–traumatic stress reminiscent of the horrific events of 9/11. "People are still recovering from that," he says.

 "The Korean people are resilient and have an inner strength to survive," says Lieutenant Grace Cho, an officer at the Salvation Army’s Queens (Flushing), N.Y., Corps Community Center. She speaks softly, and in an accented voice, chooses her words carefully. "But when people are spiritually down, they cannot help themselves or each other," she says.

The Korean community has been hard hit by COVID–19. They live in close quarters, which makes social distancing rarely possible. The loss of jobs and hundreds of small business closures have caused feelings of frustration, fear, and depression.

Major Do sung Park, commanding officer of the Philadelphia Korean Corps, is helping families deal with the loss of life, income, and mobility. He says that this time at home is an opportunity to minister to people who would normally be at work. "We’re focusing on developing our faith. I’ve spoken to so many church members. These days of staying home from work means our faith in God must work overtime."

Major Juanita M. Stanford says,  "We talk about dealing with fear, a new way of ministry, as well as having moments of fun." She and her husband, Major Demetrius Stanford, serve as corps officers at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia, Pa., and have distributed thousands of boxes of food to surrounding predominately African American communities. 

"We’re also checking in on members of our congregation. They’re listening to the news, which is quite anxiety provoking."

In mental health terms, the main psychological impact is elevated rates of stress or anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Measures such as quarantine have kept many people from their usual activities, routines or livelihoods. This is causing a rise in the levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self–harm or suicidal behavior. The well–being of frontline workers as well as people with developing or existing mental health conditions have become a major concern. 

Staying calm, finding strength

Calming people fraught with stress and anxiety regarding the pandemic is a challenge for emotional and spiritual care workers including the most experienced and licensed counselors. Chris Farrand,  the Massachusetts Division’s Emergency Disaster Services director, is a seminary graduate and mental health professional. His experience in working with people who have suffered mental illness, trauma, and loss has taught him valuable lessons. 

"Sometimes, there’s almost nothing else between this person and their grief or hurt except me," he said. "Frequently, I’m in a role where I’m put into incredibly terrible situations, and yet I can be the presence and comfort of God and bring hope in a way that changes lives; just me being there can be life transforming.

"One of the things I learned, whether I’m dealing with severe trauma, grief or mental illness, is that my goal can't be to fix them. I learned quickly that the issues are greater than anything I can ever do or any training or certification I could have. None of that can take away the person's pain, and yet they can feel comfort, encouragement, and hope. I can see their heart and soul affect change when I come alongside them." 

Farrand says that calming begins with listening. "I can go from where they would be raging and out of control," he says. "Then as I listen and I am with them, and I don’t push them away and I don’t run away, I can watch them come down to a point where they can start to manage at that level. I can't change the issue, but I can help them find the strength and resiliency to move forward." 

Gonzalez also sees great opportunity for healing and that gives him hope. "I’ve spoken to officers who are feeding needy families and offering emotional and spiritual care," he says with a broad smile.

Stanford agrees, "People need to know there are signs of life, goodness, and hope in the Lord as well as fun things outside of what is consuming everyone’s hearts and minds. I try to smile with my eyes over the top of my mask into every car that drives up. I pray with people who allow me and just try to give them a positive experience."


The effects on children

Children are likely to be experiencing worry, anxiety, and fear. This can include the types of fears that are similar to those experienced by adults, such as a fear of dying, a fear of their relatives dying or a fear of what it means to receive medical treatment.

If schools have closed as part of necessary measures, then children may no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and to get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.

How to protect children from COVID-19

Take steps to protect children and others.

  • Clean hands often using soap and water or alcohol–based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid people who are sick (coughing and sneezing).
  • Put distance between your children and other people outside of your home.
  • Encourage children to wear masks.

Are children at a higher risk of getting COVID–19?
Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID–19 than adults. While some children and infants have been sick with COVID–19, adults make up most of the known cases to date.

—Centers for Disease Control 

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