It's hard. It's really hard.
We have just emerged from a second lockdown only to be told another one awaits us in the New year. The year has weighed on us heavily and has effected us socially, spiritually and mentally. How are we going to get through these next few months? Well let me encourage you to make gathering with your Church Family your priority, online where we have to, and in person when we can.
Going to church is good for your mental health!
Eric Thurman in his book 'Thrive in Retirement' makes an interesting connection between active church membership and mental health. While speaking from an American context, the findings I think are true for us all. In a recent newsletter Thurman says:
A new Gallup Poll finds that only one group of Americans is improving in mental health this year. Gallup’s latest Health and Healthcare survey notes a steep decline in positive ratings for mental state. The measurement fell to an all-time low, the worst in the survey’s 20 year history. This year, only 34% of Americans feel their mental wellbeing is excellent.
This is true of our own context as the Irish Times reported back in October:
A month into the last lockdown, the Irish Covid-19 Mental Health Survey, which included researchers from Maynooth University and Trinity College Dublin found that among 1,000 people, 41 per cent reported feeling lonely, 23 per cent were depressed, 20 per cent had clinically meaningful levels of anxiety, and 18 per cent were suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress.
However, as Thurman noted; 'People in every category, except one, reported having a poorer mental state than last year. Scores fell for men and women alike, regardless of their marital status. All age groups, ethnicities, income groups, and political persuasions registered lower.' Interestingly, the one group of people: 'who showed improved mental health in 2020 were those actively involved in church, participating in services at least weekly.'
On Tuesday of this week, our Taoiseach Micheál Martin, announced a return to Level 5 restrictions, which means church services going back online. Surprisingly Gyms and Retailing shopping remain open, but going to Church - one of the safest ways of gathering - is not allowed. I would ask the Government to reconsider and allow the safe and controlled gathering of worship services which are good for us, not just socially and spiritually, but for our mental wellbeing. By closing our churches we are only adding to the problem rather than helping the most needy and vulnerable in our society.
Mental Health is a recognised and serious concern and one that is escalating during this Pandemic. All the evidence points to opening up our churches as healthy and good, as Thurman concludes: 'This finding matches conclusions of other research projects. For instance, Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science also documents that regular church involvement blunts other hardships and leads to flourishing.'
So I encourage you make it priority to meet with your church family online and in person - it will help you in more ways than you think!