COVID-19 and the Threat of PTSD -- A Reflection
I’m a pastor and my ministry has been turned upside down, and I'm not alone. Faith communities can't gather as normal. Everything has gone online. Clergy are having to learn technologies they had never used before. The refrain I hear often is “I’m a pastor, not a producer,” and yet it’s one more job that we’ve had to take on. My colleagues and I are feeling some stress, and we don’t know when it will end. I had an online meeting with our worship committee to talk about the process of regathering, even though we don’t know when that will be. I love congregational singing, and I miss it. I miss the people. Funny thing, meetings don’t end, they just move online. That’s the story told by clergy everywhere, and as stressed as we might feel it’s nothing compared to what’s being experienced on the frontlines. I hear that educators are feeling this as well! So, we're not alone. Besides, I'm grateful to be fully employed.
I decided to write this post after reflecting on the recent news that an ER doctor from New York City committed suicide after recovering from COVID-19 because she was overwhelmed by what she saw in the hospital. This story is a good reminder that the people on the frontline of this pandemic aren’t just facing physical concerns, such as contracting the virus. Perhaps more long-lasting is the emotional toll of having to go to work day after day and try to care for those in need. knowing that they will watch helplessly as patients die in front of them. Many of these essential workers are separated from their families and their friends until this settles down, or they can be tested on a regular basis. It's clear that folks are experiencing a form of PTSD. The thing is, there is no relief in sight. I’m praying for them. I’m rooting for them. But, the path ahead is difficult.
These folks on the frontline— the personnel at our hospitals, clinics, test sites, EMS personnel, Police, and Fire—they’re heroes to be honored for their courage and their commitment to the common good. But let us not forget, they are human beings, who are experiencing great spiritual, emotional, and mental fatigue. They are joined by many others who are exposed to the ravages of the pandemic because they are deemed essential workers. These include the workers in meat-packing plants, the factory workers producing PPE and ventilators, the grocery workers (my brother works in the grocery business) who interact with the public not knowing if the customers could be carrying the virus. These are just a few of those we could name. Of course, we should forget everyone who has lost their jobs or been furloughed from them. There are the children who can’t go to school. College and graduate students pursuing higher education that has been turned upside down. They may be still on campus, but without any real support network (my son is in seminary out in California).
This is like nothing most of us have seen our lifetimes. So, we need to be gracious to each other and we need to stand in solidarity with those who are putting their lives on the line for us. Yes, we need to keep them in prayer and find ways of encouraging them, because the impact of all of this will be long-lasting. In other words, many will experience PTSD and will need our support going forward.
O God, our shepherd, who leads us through dark valleys and who has experienced the suffering of humanity, we entrust into your care all those who stand on the front lines, may they know your peace and your protection. May we stand with them in solidarity. Amen.