When our current social isolation started and the public celebration of Mass was canceled, staff at Anna Ferguson’s parish in Papillion, Nebraska, got busy with phone calls.
“We’ve made an effort to call all of our parishioners,” said Ferguson, who is the parish’s communications director, “beginning with the oldest and most at risk and moving down through age groups.”
At St. John’s Parish on the Creighton University campus in Omaha, morning and evening prayer is held Monday through Friday during the pandemic through Zoom and is open to anyone in the parish who wants to “drop by” using a link provided. It’s a way to share community in the midst of isolation.
These are ways that Catholic parishes are communicating their concern for their members’ physical and emotional health, and letting people know that they have a place to talk if they’re facing distress or loneliness.
We’re isolating but the message is: We’re all in this together and you’re not alone.
Mental health experts tell us that feelings of stress and anxiety are normal at this time of distancing, but many resources exist to help.
One comprehensive source of help for those experiencing anxiety is a website called www.covidmentalhealthsupport.org. It includes numerous contacts for mental health and other pandemic crisis needs. Some of those numbers are listed at the end of this article.
Every parish should have lists readily available of resources, whether for food banks, free counseling hotlines or perhaps parish volunteers willing to be telephone pals during this crisis.
Some parishes have volunteers who can deliver groceries or prescriptions to the homebound. Check your website and your weekly online bulletin and don’t hesitate to call your parish.
Another resource for those struggling with stress is your local Catholic Charities. Google their website or call. Some have videos dealing with anxiety, some offer counseling and all can provide referrals.
Your own health care provider and local hospital system can provide suggestions for support.
Many Alcoholics Anonymous groups are meeting through Zoom conference calls.
Experts tell us that the two factors often implicated in suicide are economic downturns and social disconnection, factors we’re facing at unprecedented levels right now.
And while calls to suicide hotlines have not risen yet, a recent report on National Public Radio said there’s often a “drop in suicides in the immediate aftermath of disasters only to rise later.”
This should be a wake-up call for all of us. This is not the time for a “stiff upper lip” mentality. It’s the time to share our fear and grief, and be willing to listen compassionately to others. During this time, it’s important to stick to a routine, eat healthy food, exercise and make sure you stay connected to friends, family and your faith community.
“I’ve noticed that I get pulled aside far more often as I walk through my neighborhood and parishioners recognize me and want to talk,” said Ferguson. Everyone is looking for human contact right now, even from a distance of 6 feet.
For an immediate crisis, call 911.
The Boys Town National Hotline, staffed by trained counselors, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 800-448-3000. Spanish-speaking counselors and translation services for more than 100 languages are available. Speech- and hearing-impaired can contact them at email@example.com.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a substance abuse and mental health services toll-free hotline at 1-800-985-5990.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline can be reached toll-free at 1-800-422-4453 if you suspect child abuse.
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(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)