Folks around the U.S. are feeling the effects of what is now nearly three months of social-distancing, self-quarantining, and stay-at-home orders. Paul Gionfriddo, president of the advocacy group Mental Health America, told The Washington Post that the mental-health impacts of this time period will be seen for years to come, and may put further strain on the economy and medical system as folks struggle to cope with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
The Washington Post reported that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s emergency hotline experienced a 1,000 percent increase this April in comparison to April 2019.
Mike Christie, the lead pastor at Branches church identified connection as the biggest need of the Branches community. People need to feel a sense of togetherness, be it via Zoom, phone calls, or socially distant walks.
“There are a lot of people in the community, I can think of a few in particular, who have said that they just want — and they know it’s not time yet– but how good a hug would feel,” Christie said.
“Mental health issues for young adults are pretty common without a pandemic… this time just heightens what is already going on in a young adult. [They] are just constantly trying to figure out identity, purpose, belonging just in their normal lives; it’s a constant thought going on in the back of our heads,” said Teagan Brindley, the Director of Young Adults and Hospitality at First Presbyterian Church.
The instability of life throughout the pandemic only heightens young adults’ search for meaning, according to Brindley.
The Importance of Relationships
The communities at Branches and First Presbyterian are both relying on pre-existing relationships to cope with the hardships during quarantine.
Christie hopes that relationships folks have already formed will serve as conduits for people to be able to reach out for help.
“There’s a phrase that we use a lot [at Branches] —‘I’m the pastor and so are you’ — and the meaning behind that is all of us, individually, through the context of the relationships that we have, can be looking out for and being with one another as best we can.”
“One of the ways that our church community has been helping our young adults just in general is through these things we call ‘family groups’,” said Brindley.
Stability and Belonging
Family groups pair four to five young adults with one or two adult couples or families to provide young adults with a sense of stability and belonging.
The focus right now is on relationships, and the hope is that the relationships people have formed in their respective faith communities are providing folks with a sense of connection that has been missing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My speciality is not clinical mental health. So I can be an access point for people if they’re not doing well, but I have made a pretty firm delineation that if I sense that someone needs true clinical help when it comes to their mental health, there [are] are few folks on our board and community in general who have a background in that and I will reach out to them, with the person’s consent, and then they can help me connect them with somebody,” Christie said.
A Time For Conversation
This summer Branches will be utilizing a series of 10-12 prompts rather than a weekly sermon, followed by a Zoom call on Sunday afternoons. Christie’s hope is that the prompts will open doors for vulnerable conversations to take place during their weekly Zoom calls, as well as provide a space to check in on one another.
Brindley said this period of time has served to remind folks the art of slowing down, to remember ancient practices of slowing down and connecting with God through solitude and silence.
She also mentioned the fear of missing out (fomo) epidemic.
“Nobody is really having that fear of missing out because nobody is missing out, everyone is just kind of chilling. I think it actually just puts into perspective, when we’re back into normal life, there’s nothing to be afraid of for not being there. Take care of yourself, stay home if you need to,” she said.
Brindley hopes the forced isolation resulting from COVID-19 will aid in creating “new normals” of how to pace ourselves a little bit better.
“There’s a lot of beauty we can take with us into Phase 3 and 4 and maybe we don’t have to jump back into proving ourselves and working our butts off for the promotion… it puts into perspective some of what is most important,” Brindley said.
She wants young adults to feel connected enough to their emotions, especially in quarantine, that they’re able to identify when they may need additional support. The strong relationships formed in these communities provide an outlet for checking in on how people are doing during this socially-distant time.
“I think one of the greatest gifts is when you’re able to recognize the Divine all around you, and one of the greatest preventatives from that is when you can’t recognize the divine within yourself. And I think that depression is something that inhibits our ability to see who we truly are in the eyes of the Divine,” Christie said.
When it comes to caring for people, Christie and Brindley see their roles as fostering relationships that serve their communities in the long-run.