About a year and a half ago, I wrote To mental health care providers and faith leaders: A note of gratitude and a call to connect. It was quickly shared in some spaces, including Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, and I had the opportunity to speak about it with the Health and Human Services’ Partnership Center in this webinar.
To both groups: thank you for the wholehearted efforts you extend toward caring for so many within your community, often stepping in to serve in the quiet ways that no one will ever see or know. Your presence within the fabric of our society is a gift and we are grateful for the ways you’ve helped us move through and heal from so much over the last year and a half.
Mental health care providers: If you’re not currently doing so, please consider the role of your clients’ religious/spiritual beliefs and practices (whatever they may be) as you hold space for them navigating these uncertain times, assess their struggles and strengths, and consider potential referrals/resources across faith traditions.
Faith leaders: If you’re not currently doing so, please consider your congregation members’ mental health concerns and needs (whatever they may be) as you plan your sermons, discern ministry opportunities, and contemplate sharing referrals/resources tied to mental health care.
Many of you have been or recently began considering these areas of others’ lives and I want to sincerely thank you for that and for how you have connected with one another. I also want to offer a very important addition to my note to both groups in light of the last year…
Mental health care providers and Faith leaders:
Please consider the intricate intersection of your own mental health concerns and needs (whatever they may be) and your own religious/spiritual beliefs and practices (whatever they may be). You have carried so much for so many of us for so long.
Please take good care of you to the best of your ability as you care for others through your presence and the good work you do.tweet
Over the last several months, we’ve seen articles surface around how burnout and exhaustion are weaving into the experiences of so many fellow helpers. In February, USA Today published Mental health professionals are the ones taking care of us: Who’s taking care of them? , and there have been similar articles, such as this one in Forbes. We’ve seen this echoed for faith leaders, with some recent practical suggestions to support faith leaders. Both groups have had to overhaul their ways of being and serving others while continuing to do their usual duties. Mental health care providers quickly shifted to teletherapy, which is effective but certainly different than in-person sessions. Faith leaders shifted to virtual services, while constantly discerning when and how to return to in-person services. The learning curves for these shifts in service delivery required energy and time, too.
Meanwhile, both groups grappled with their own and loved ones’ personal fears, grief, isolation, and worries related to COVID-19 on top of the multiple layers of trauma we have navigated as a nation. These additional layers of trauma include racial injustice, juggling our kids’ virtual school while working from home, economic concerns and job losses, high rates of women leaving the workforce, political unrest, the Texas blackout and southern winter storm, multiple mass shootings, concerns for our global neighbors’ rising rates of COVID-19, worries for our kids in light of the Delta variant, and continuing to contemplate how we slowly move into a post-pandemic world after everything we’ve done to be safe over the last 19 months.
It may take our nervous systems some time to exhale and transition into the weeks and months ahead, especially among faith leaders and mental health care providers, and that is ok. It’s important that we be excessively gentle with ourselves as we transition into a new way of being.
As written in this May 2021 Atlantic article, What happens when Americans can finally exhale?: The pandemic’s mental wounds are still wide open, “People who endure long bouts of stress often collapse when they get a chance to be calm.” While all of us are at risk of collapsing as we begin to feel new and uncertain waves of calm, I imagine that even with their valuable skills, mental health care providers and faith leaders will collapse under an additional weight of stress that most of us haven’t carried this last year.
My hope is that these fellow helpers allow themselves the space to feel and seek the support, boundaries, and ways of being that they need to heal, remembering that our faith and mental health are intricately connected with one another, especially on this World Mental Health Day and Clergy/Pastor Appreciation Day. (Read more in this Q&A with Baylor University and the first letter to faith leaders and mental health care providers.)
To mental health care providers and faith leaders: We see you and all that you have carried to humbly support so many of us over the last year and a half. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for the ways you have helped us move through this impossible year and for all that you do to continually and humbly serve others. You are invaluable to our communities, and my hope is that you can lean on and learn from one another as you collectively care for your communities, those around you, and yourselves. May you consider the intricate intersection of your own mental health concerns and needs as well as your own religious/spiritual beliefs and practices through this season.
And may you take excessively good care of you (to the best of your ability) as you care for others through your presence and the good work you do.
ps. If you’re interested in learning more about this intersection of faith and mental health, particularly for helpers such as faith leaders and mental health care providers, pre-order The Soul of the Helper (Templeton Press, January 2022) wherever you buy your books!