I find myself thinking back to the early 2000s when I was a young social worker providing substance abuse counseling and running relapse preventions groups. I had the privilege of having some veterans in my groups. I don’t remember the exact prompt but the rest I recall vividly. I think the group was discussing triggers to alcohol and substance use. I acknowledged one of the group members, an older gentleman, African-American, usually very humorous. He struggled with physical and other mental challenges in addition to his battle to remain clean from drugs. He wasn’t smiling or joking this time. He was speaking with a heavy emphasis on each word. He said, “There are things that I have seen, that those who served experienced, that I can’t speak about here. They are unimaginable.” I remember in that moment thinking that I believe him. His words coupled with his body language made it clear that he had indeed experienced the unimaginable.
It is often that which remains unsaid that is most traumatic.
I speculate that he was referring to the trauma of war: observing the dead and dying coupled with fears of one’s own personal safety. Sound familiar? It reminds me of what I am hearing from healthcare professionals. Like veterans, it is reasonable to expect that there will be long term mental health impacts for those who witness death and dying continuously over the course of the COVID-19 crisis. You may not know a veteran, but chances are that you know a healthcare professional. Healthcare professionals and other hospital and nursing home staff are in the trenches. They see unimaginable loss day in and day out. They work long shifts caring for patients who don’t have the luxury of having family present and comforting patients who are fearful, some of which will become progressively more ill and pass away.
You may be one of these healthcare professionals or you may have one in your family. The importance of monitoring one’s mental health the way you monitor the temperature of an ailing individual cannot be overstated. If left untreated or unaddressed, it can have significant impact on the individual and his/her family. What can we do as a family to support those who experience the unimaginable? Here are three (3) suggestions to help your family member.
1. Point them to God.
God offers the tried and true prescription. There is nothing that is unimaginable to God. He is our Healer and Comforter. God can remove fear, anxiety, depression, and all manner of ailments.
- Pray with and for your family member daily.
- Share scripture of encouragement like Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 6:25 and Isaiah 43: 1-3.
2. Don’t let your loved one suffer in silence. Encourage them to get professional help, if needed.
Your loved one has trained and dedicated their life to caring for others even when it means the possibility of exposing themselves to the same disease. They too may find themselves needing the hands of a trained caregiver who can help them deal with the invisible trauma they are experiencing. If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of acute stress, disturbing dreams, depression, anxiety or other symptom that is interfering with their normal life activities, it is important to get a qualified counselor who can provide the appropriate level of treatment. Christian counselors or clinically trained pastors are also available. Consider getting a recommendation from someone you trust.
Look for the next post, Helping the Helper- Part II, when we will discuss signs and symptoms that your loved one may need professional help.
3. Meet their need.
Tell your loved one, “I don’t understand what you have been through.” It’s true. You don’t. Then ask them, “What can I do to help you?” Then do it!
- Help them carve out time away from all things COVID-19. Turn off the news, social media feeds and friends who want to talk about daily COVID updates. Your loved one is at ground zero. They don’t need any updates. Help them experience quiet time in the form of uninterrupted sleep and relaxation.
- Envelop them in your love daily.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 as often as necessary.
But now, this is what the Lord says
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
– Isaiah 43: 1-3