Today in the Mission Yearbook

Focusing on mental health during the coronavirus pandemic


Ministry releases eight steps for congregations and pastors to get active

August 27, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has “brought home the relevance of mental health to everyone,” says Donna Miller, Associate for the Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The COVID-19 crisis has “brought home the relevance of mental health to everyone,” said Donna Miller, associate for Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry. “There’s this recognition that the situation that we’re in increases mental health vulnerability across the board. We know that prolonged stress does that for people.”

From front-line workers to average citizens dealing with the repercussions of grief, racism and economic insecurity, there are a host of people within churches and their communities who may need help coping with trauma and emotional distress.

With that in mind, the ministry has released a tip sheet containing eight suggestions for pastors and congregations on how to put mental health in the forefront and make it a topic of conversation and study for individuals and groups.

The pandemic has resulted in more than 63,000 U.S. deaths, upended normal life and enhanced pre-existing stressors. There is the risk of social isolation while people are separated from loved ones, and increased vulnerabilities for domestic violence and child abuse while people are working remotely or jobless and many school campuses remain closed.

All of this “highlights the need for us to pay attention to mental health in ourselves and our loved ones and friends and neighbors,” Miller said. “Mental health experts and public health experts are talking about the fact that everyone is under increased stress. We need to find the ways to manage stress and build resilience that work for us.”

Ways to spotlight mental health include disseminating a pastoral letter linking congregations to the Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry’s collections of resources, using digital spaces to support prayer and peer support groups, taking advantage of online training in skills of mental health first aid and suicide prevention, and joining community efforts to bring hope and happiness to people during the pandemic.

“Connection is so important,” Miller said. “This is a time when connections are less incidental and more intentional.”

Additional material from the Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry will be posted online soon, including hotline numbers and resources to assist specific groups, such as parents and families. It will join an existing collection of COVID-19 mental health materials released earlier this year.

“There are great resources talking about how to cope with anxiety — your own and how to help your children with fears they may be having, how to cope with anger and frustration that comes up when you’re at home and you’re trying to juggle jobs and children,” Miller said.

Mental health was a strong topic of interest within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) even before the pandemic. Examples include an ongoing Mental Health Ministry initiative and the creation of the Presbyterian Mental Health Network, which is in its formative stages.

A churchwide survey on mental health drew 6,000 responses, including nearly 4,000 from ministers. The survey also garnered 2,000 individual comments.

“That was a really robust kind of response and interest, and there were also 400 requests for more information about resources that we responded to,” Miller said.

She anticipates that the need for mental health assistance and resources will continue as the effects of the pandemic manifest in different ways. “Public health experts are predicting there is going to be a wave of mental health impacts that will follow the wave of COVID,” Miller said.

The Presbyterian Mental Health Ministry is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Sandy Lucas, Presbyterian Foundation
Kathy Lueckert, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray:

God of grace and peace, there is so much happening around us. Changes are coming, and some are already here. There are moments when we are very confused. We long for your guidance. Please break through the chaos with your reassurance and grant us your understanding. Amen.