So often during the past year, something bad would happen and we would hear someone say “Well, what do you expect? It’s 2020!” There were memes, t-shirts, even Christmas tree ornaments that depicted the year as a dumpster fire. Over and over, 2020 was to blame. And it left us with this false sense that if we could just get to 2021, we would feel better.
And now, 2021 is here. And the pandemic is surging. People are continuing to die. Folks are still lined up at the food banks. Communities are still experiencing racial injustice. And our nation’s Capitol is under attack. Weren’t we supposed to feel better?
It is important for us all to recognize – what we are going through is a series of traumas. A series of griefs. A series of challenges to our individual and our collective sense of well-being. Our mental health is suffering. Our bodies are showing the wear and tear in experiences of disrupted sleep, headaches, days when we feel foggy or lethargic and stomach upset. Some of us are irritable. Some of us are just getting through the day. Some of us are in danger.
2020 may be over, but in 2021 we are still feeling overwhelmed and scared.
A vaccine offers us hope. We know that we will return to a time when we can be together. We may do it differently, but that time will come. We will go back to school. We will see family. We will travel. We will rise up from this experience.
In the meantime, it is critical that we support one another. We must check in on that family member we haven’t heard from in a while. Call the friend who seems “fine” but may not be. Check in with the colleague who has their camera off during the Zoom meeting. Ask the one who is “always strong” if they need someone to just listen.
Part of what we talk about in Mental Health First Aid training is the “approach” – meaning, the initial way we check in with folks who may be struggling. We want to communicate what I call the three C’s – Caring, Consistency and Curiosity.
· Caring: We say this explicitly and implicitly. We are continually letting folks know we are checking in because we care.
· Consistency: We let them know that we are here when they want to talk. Not everyone is ready to talk right away. Our job is to leave that door open and let them know we are here when they are ready.
· Curiosity: We ask questions about what this experience has been like for them. Are they finding that anything helps? We don’t make assumptions. We don’t project our own experience onto theirs. We ask questions to let them know we want to hear about them.
2021 isn’t a quick fix. We are learning that fact quickly. We still have a long way to go. So now more than ever, we need each other to get through and together we can tap into our inherent resilience.