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Faith communities can help Britain overcome collective Covid trauma, new report suggests

25 February 2022

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FAITH communities have a significant part to play in helping Britain to overcome its collective trauma from Covid, a report published by Guild of Health and St Raphael (Go Health) this month suggests. It regards the ministry of healing as intrinsic to the Church’s mission.

The report, by Professor Jim McManus, director of public health for Hertfordshire County Council and president of the Association of the Directors of Public Health, explores the impact of trauma in relation to the pandemic, and sets out advice and guidance for faith leaders in how to draw up plans to help communities to recover.

He says that the pandemic should be considered as a “syndemic” rather than a pandemic, as a number of factors — physical, social, financial, and emotional — combine to create an overall impact that is worse: a “multiple whammy” effect.

The trauma is both collective and individual, the report says. “While some people will recover and thrive, others will struggle at various degrees. This is a clear challenge. When it comes to mental health services run by the health system, the demand and need will be some way beyond capacity, and we must therefore identify a population-wide approach to early intervention, prevention and recovery.”

Grief and shock can turn easily into grievance and intolerance, which pose a threat to society, Professor McManus warns, and can also give rise to increased belief in conspiracy theories. Churches need to recognise and respond to the trauma of their own leaders and members, and self-care has to be at the centre of any wider response, the report recommends.

Faith leaders, as well as medical and care workers, are particularly at risk of burnout, compassion fatigue, and traumatic stress disorder as Covid continues, owing to the combination of stress and personal trauma, and their own motivation to keep serving their communities.

The report sets out a framework, with tools and resources, to help church communities respond to trauma.

The Guild’s chief executive, the Revd Dr Gillian Straine, said: “We have seen so clearly in the lives of church leaders the impact of trauma: not only are they dealing with the pandemic personally, but they are reaching out to their communities from a position of leadership into great trauma, and doing that in hope, worship, and healing, but that comes at a great cost.”

Forty-two per cent of clergy said that their mental health had worsened since before Covid, and 44 per cent felt more isolated, she said. “We have an uncertain future: our leaders are traumatised, and they are leading in communities that are traumatised, in a declining institution.”

To view the report and the tools to help church communities to respond, visit gohealth.org.uk.

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