This year, as COVID-19 burst through the gates of our comfortable Canadian context, life drastically changed for all of us. Public health officials and the government strongly advised isolation, and we heeded the call to stay home and stay safe. The next few months weren’t easy for anyone.

We were separated from family, friends and church; expected to work and teach our children at the same time; faced unemployment and economic instability; and experienced housing and food insecurity. The complexity of living in a changed world filled us with questions and anxiety. The frenzy on social media often consumed us, enhancing the tendency to worry and panic over things we couldn’t change. All of this affected our mental well-being.

Think about how challenging the changes were for your little bubble. Think about how you coped, how you navigated your needs versus your wants. Think about how you chose to simplify life and care for your family in a time of crisis.

Now let’s pause and think about the marginalized in our society. As a Salvation Army officer who oversees community and family services, I was on the front line responding to the needs of our community, including those experiencing homelessness. There were many changes to protocols and safety measures, but my incredible staff and I did our best to serve and share the love of God.

In the early weeks of our provincial lockdown, many of the people experiencing homelessness who came to us were unaware of the severity of the pandemic and did not have the right information to guide their daily choices. COVID-19 made life even harder for these individuals in many ways.

Social agencies closed, shelters minimized the number of beds available for an ever-growing population, and people who once let others crash on their couches worried about getting sick and shut their doors. Restaurants were only open for drive through. This was a problem for those who did not have a phone to preorder food or a vehicle. Without access to the internet, the ability to get help for mental-health challenges became even more complex.

In an article for The Conversation, an independent media website, researchers described the mental-health consequences of COVID-19 as the “fourth wave” of the pandemic, citing an Angus Reid study from April, which found that “50 percent of Canadians felt their mental health had worsened during the pandemic, indicating high levels of worry and anxiety.” God created us to be in relationship with one another, to be in community with one another, and months of isolation and physical distancing have taken a toll.

But as the researchers point out, this impact on mental health is even greater for those groups marginalized by social circumstances and stigma. They lack financial resources and the tools to stay connected on social media, and their social supports remain closed to the public. Marginalized groups are more likely to experience poor mental health and, in some cases, mental-health conditions. In addition, marginalized groups also have decreased access to the social and economic factors that are essential to recovery and positive mental health.

So, what can we do as an Army to enhance the mental well-being of those we accompany?

1. Meet in person. We need to create safe opportunities to meet face to face (with proper health and safety protocols in place). People need to know that we are still here for them.

2. Ask the right questions. “How are you holding up? How are you coping emotionally? How can we help you on this journey?”

3. Have mental-health professionals connected to your ministry unit. Partner with local mental-health resources in your area or employ a professional counsellor to provide help and guidance to those in need.

4. Be the church. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Walk with Jesus as he walks with those you meet from day to day. Live the truth of your faith and be the friend who seeks equality of service for all people.

Major Karen Puddicombe is the corps officer at Burlington Community Church, Ont., and executive director of community and family services.

Photo: courtneyk/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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