Rick Bayer, a pastor at Gracepoint Community Church, is concerned that isolation measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in an ‘echo pandemic’ – a mental health crisis. (File photo)

COLUMN: Coronavirus is a thief, but it can’t steal our souls

‘Echo pandemic’ will likely be seen in the ongoing effect on people’s mental health

There is not a person I’ve talked to in the last six weeks whose mental health has not been affected by the coronavirus. There is a collective trauma going on in our world that is unprecedented in modern times.

Even those who usually find themselves flourishing have found their minds languishing in these difficult days.

Simple tasks like a trip to the grocery story can cause fear, anxiety and panic to rise within us when we’re cornered in aisle seven.

I am concerned that an echo pandemic of mental health struggles may follow this pandemic.

We are in unknown territory as a result of the social distancing, isolation, large-scale employment losses, and everything that is coming at us daily.

How do we cope in the midst of this? There is a deluge of resources out there that all suggest the same thing. It’s summarized in the two words ‘self-care.’ They all tend to say the same thing.

We are encouraged to limit news intake, get outside, practise deep breathing, eliminate negative thoughts and establish some routine in our lives. These are all good suggestions, which I recommend and practise, along with the vital need to connect with others.

However, I think there may something more profound the universe is trying to tell us in the midst of this crisis. Every solution I see offered tends to focus upon techniques. I’m wondering if the techniques should follow something deeper within us.

You can go to a beautiful place like Crescent Beach and leave there happy or leave as anxious and fearful as when you came.

What if the ocean were trying to connect you with the transcendent? Because let’s face it, more ice cream (even the beloved chocolate mint chip) or more retail therapy (as limited as that is these days) is not going to shift your soul. Pleasurable experiences are good but they are limited.

I am trying to lead my church in our online gatherings to think about the bigger questions of life now. Why are we here and what is the purpose of our lives?

Suddenly everyone is interested in helping others. The beauty of humanity is rising among us.

We in the Western world have often thought in the recent past that life owes us happiness. We felt confident in our measure of right and wrong and controlling our destinies. Then the coronavirus came along and took the swagger out of our step.

Other cultures, whether in history past or in less affluent parts of the world; seem to deal with pain and suffering better. Perhaps this is our time to find something more substantial than the latest methods. I spoke with someone last week who lamented his ‘withering soul.’

Today’s coronavirus is a thief that has stolen our livelihoods. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs will disappear forever.

It has stolen our children’s innocence, as certain children will struggle with increased fears and anxiety. COVID-19 has stolen our most vulnerable as the aged and those at risk have passed away suddenly.

But one thing the coronavirus can’t steal is our souls. Our joy and hope and love at our deepest level can enlarge in even the most difficult of times. Listen to the ocean.

Rick Bayer is the pastor of Gracepoint Community Church.

Coronavirusmental health

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