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Stay safe, stay sane: church guide to coping with isolation

27 March 2020

Resources published to help mental health while in isolation

Church Times

A CHURCH guide on how to cope with mental-health issues during the coronavirus outbreak has been pub­lished, amid concerns about loneli­ness and anxiety.

On Thursday of last week, guide­lines were re­­leased from Church House, West­mins­ter, laying out actions that people can take while prac­tising social distancing and self-isolating to prevent the spread of the virus. They suggest:

  • praying, perhaps with a candle (if safe);
  • talking about feelings of distress over the phone or via social media;
  • focusing on what can be changed rather than what cannot;
  • doing enjoyable things such as watch­ing TV or playing games; and
  • helping others, even through small gestures.

On the same day, research from the University of Exeter’s Tragedy and Congregations project was cir­cu­­­lated among parishes, with gui­d­ance to the clergy on how to take care of themselves and support their parishioners during the Covid-19 pan­demic.

It showed that, during previous national disasters such as terrorist incidents and the Grenfell Tower fire, the clergy were best equipped to meet the needs of others when they were rested and well-fed, and when congregations had active links to other faith groups.

“This is a very confusing and drain­i­ng time, a time when ordinary healthy rhythms are lost,” the project director, Dr Christopher Southgate, said. “We may be feeling in our minds and bodies the impact of trauma, and all at a time when we need to be able to change and adapt to unusual events. Taking care of ourselves and our own well-being is vital. It also includes as far as possible having people we trust whom we can share with, and being in touch with them.”

The Church’s guidelines are in­­cluded in a new resource, Support­ing Good Mental Health. It is written jointly by an academic within the theology and religion department at Durham University, the Revd Pro­fessor Chris Cook, and the direc­tor of the Christian mental-health char­ity Renew Wellbeing, Ruth Rice.

The booklet describes techniques for dealing with feelings of isolation and fear, including devoting time to sleeping and eating well, making lists of the good things in life and thank­ing God for one’s existence. It re­commends using prayers and Bible verses as aids to meditation.

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, who is the lead bishop on health and social care, welcomed the new gui­dance. He said: "For some time now, the issues of loneliness and isolation have been identified as major prob­lems within our society.

“The coronavirus pandemic will only create further challenges in this respect. So it is vital that we do all we can as a Church to protect people’s mental well-being.”

Comment: Anne Holmes offers advice to clergy and lay people who are struggling with their mental health during the pandemic

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