Mental Health Pandemic

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad news. COVID-19 is infecting our brains. Even if you don’t test positive for the virus, it’s making us all, even the uninfected, mentally sick. It’s safe to say the mental infection rate is nearly one hundred percent.

Our mental health depends on three primary areas: strong social networks to prevent social isolation, strong personal connection to fight off loneliness, and strong financial health to fight off stress from money worries. This virus has attacked every single one of these areas and in major ways. Who hasn’t had their social networks, personal social connections and finances infected by this virus? Some of us are more negatively impacted than others—women, people of color, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities.

This mental health pandemic will last much longer than COVID-19. It will be with us for generations because of the trauma that is rewiring our brains as we speak and reshaping our DNA. Now is the time to put into place measures to help us recover from the mental health pandemic.

Now for the good news. We know what mental health requires of us. We know that strong social networks, personal social connections, and financial health promote mental wellness. Using this information, we can be proactive about treating this virus that infects our mental health.

Here are five key investments to make during a mental health pandemic:

1. Invest in your social networks. Being connected to peers who share our interests, hopes and dreams gives us a sense of belonging and affirms our sense of purpose. This can be a professional group, a recreational group, a recovery group or a religious group. We are wired to belong to others. Find your people and stay connected in safe and healthy ways.

2. Invest in your personal connections. We are dying alone and we are dying from loneliness. Friendships affirm our sense of self-worth and self-love. It’s hard to love ourselves when we don’t feel loved. A friend is someone who loves us. A friend is someone we love. This simple love can save us from despair.

3. Invest in financial wellbeing. Worrying about money is a huge stressor. Unemployment is at an all time high. We define our worth by how much money we make. That’s a lie. We have value no matter what. Take time to create a new budget to follow during the pandemic. What are the bare essentials? What can you make do without? How can you save money and cut down on expenses? How can our communities with surplus finances help others so that everyone has enough? There is enough if we share.

4. Invest in caring for your body. Moving our bodies improves our mental health. Drinking water and eating healthy food is good for the brain. Our brains need sleep. Naps are good. Be mindful of how your body feels and treat it gently. Your body is a temple. Your body is holy.

5. Invest in caring for your mind. Cultivate positive emotions to balance out the negative ones. We are filled with sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear these days. Take breaks from the news cycle. Turn off electronic devices. We can reclaim our humanity by intentionally focusing on what brings us joy, contentment, pleasure and awe. The truth is we can acknowledge despair and joy at the same time. Our mental health suffers when we are consumed by despair. Be intentional about creating time and space everyday for noticing what is good, even if it’s only the goodness of our very breath, a ray of sunlight, or a single wildflower pushing up through the concrete. Be present in the moment and let go of what you cannot control.

Remember that you are not alone. You are loved. This pandemic will not win. We will overcome despair by coming together. Our love for ourselves and for each other is what will save us. We are saved one day at a time.

Global Anxiety Pandemic

Right now we are living through a global anxiety pandemic. This situational anxiety is the result of the COVID19 global pandemic. If you haven’t already, now is the time to look to mental health experts and to people with lived experiences in recovery from anxiety. These people are heroes, too.

In my family, we are survivors of post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. The good news is that each one of us can take proactive steps to slow the spread of the global anxiety pandemic. Even if you aren’t feeling symptoms now, taking these steps will improve your resilience and positively impact your health.

Here are five easy and healthy ways to manage symptoms of anxiety that my household finds helpful:

1) Get plenty of sleep. Take naps, more than one nap a day is okay. Nap on the couch, in bed, in the chair, or on the floor. Sleep helps the brain recover and reset.

2) Drink lots of water. Mental health is physical health. We need water to help keep our bodies clean on the inside.

3) Move your body. Anxiety is physical. It lives not just in your head, but throughout your whole body. Some people feel it in their shoulders and neck, some in their abdomen. Moving our bodies unlocks anxiety’s grip on us. Tell anxiety to take a hike! Simple movements help to relax muscles and empowers your system to overcome the “fight or flight” reflex. Stretching, walking, yoga, choose what feels best to you.

4) Express your feelings. Keep a journal, talk to a friend or loved one. Talk to a counselor or therapist. Anxiety often stretches the truth. We need the perspective of other people in order to find balance. Instead of black or white, realities are often shades of gray. Sorting through repetitive anxious thoughts and releasing them helps to free yourself from their power.

5) Embrace the now. Anxiety is often triggered by fear of dynamics in the future. You have the power to focus on the here and now. Deep breathing practices can help us be present in the moment. Make it a daily practice to pause throughout your day to take three slow deep breaths.

Did you notice how much of managing anxiety relates to our physical bodies? This is good news because it means that how we choose to use our bodies impacts our mental health. We can each choose to treat our bodies with compassion, kindness, gentleness and love. We can also slow the spread of the global anxiety pandemic, one mind and one body at a time. It starts with you.

Mental Health Resources: •National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) http://www.nami.org, •National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml, •United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCCMHN) http://mhn-ucc.blogspot.com/?m=1, •Suicide Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255

Disabilities and the #MeToo Movement

The L’Arche USA reports an internal investigation confirms founder Jean Vanier committed decades long patterns of spiritual and sexual abuse. The L’Arche is a community model of serving people with disabilities.

So far, none of the known survivors of Vanier’s abuse are identified as people with disabilities. However, there is a possibility yet to be uncovered that some of the people Vanier abused are people with disabilities.

In the fall of 2018, I preached on Mark 10:13-16 at the Amistad Chapel of the national setting of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio. From the sermon:

“Disability justice also means that when addressing the problem of sexual assault, we include survivors who are people living with disabilities.

  • knowing that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives,
  • knowing that 30% of men with developmental disabilities have been sexually assaulted,
  • knowing half of the women assaulted experienced assault more than 10 times,
  • Knowing that only 3% of sexual abuse involving people with developmental disabilities is ever reported.
  • People with intellectual disabilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault of any group in America (7 times higher than people without disabilities) and it’s hardly talked about at all.(www.disabilityjustice.org).

Jesus would be indignant that children with disabilities are the most vulnerable to sexual assault and that the church is silent about it.”

Church, this is our moment to break the silence about #MeToo and disabilities. We can no longer be silent about the injustice of the sexual abuse of people with disabilities.

It is possible that none of Vanier’s abuse survivors are people with disabilities. Yet, the fact that he violated the sacred trust of those in his care will send tremors through all communities serving people with disabilities and people with disabilities who have experienced spiritual and sexual abuse. Most of whom we will never know about and whose stories we will never hear.

For the sake of disability justice, this is more than about one man’s moral failing, this is about a system of oppression and abuse that needs to change. We can no longer pretend that people with disabilities are not part of the #MeToo movement. The question is, what will we do now that we know?