As the death count in the United States and around the world continues to climb, the toll of COVID-19 staggers the mind. Among those who recover, many have reported how debilitating the virus can be. An IU Health pulmonologist, who recently recovered from COVID-19, shared, “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” The direct impact of the disease itself—its severity, the number of deaths, the scope of the spread—is mind-boggling.
The indirect impact of COVID-19 might be just as staggering. The economic impact has been front and center in the news over the past months, yet there are other hidden impacts on our nation and world that have not received as much attention—domestic violence and mental health.
Even when life is normal, the home is not a safe place for many people. Add increased social isolation, financial stress, unemployment, and increased consumption of alcohol, and you have a recipe for a rise in domestic violence. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen in our community. Many sources have reported the increase in domestic violence since mid-March when schools and businesses began to close. This turned tragic here in our own city when IMPD officer Breann Leath was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call.
If domestic violence calls to the police have increased, it’s also likely that other forms of domestic abuse are increasing as well. Domestic abuse takes many forms, not just physical violence. Verbal threats, physical intimidation, fits of rage, degrading language, humiliation, and psychological mind games are all forms of abuse that can be just as damaging. The reality is that COVID-19 is indirectly causing an increase in domestic abuse. Coupled with fewer opportunities for victims to escape, this impact is devastating.
Lest you think this issue is “out there” and not a problem within the Church, think again. Sadly, both the universal Church and our local expression of it, are not immune to domestic abuse in its various forms. Statistics reveal that anywhere between 25-33 percent of women will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, and some studies report that this holds true among Christians as well. One of the saddest experiences of my pastoring has been a growing awareness that women in our church are suffering in abusive marriages. I recognize that men can are do experience abuse as well; yet, statistics and experience both show that women are more likely to suffer from abuse. And during this COVID-19 pandemic, some of our sisters in Christ are experiencing heightened suffering as they shelter in place with abusive spouses.
The impact of COVID-19 on mental and emotional well-being is also becoming more apparent. In particular, many healthcare workers are bearing the weight of longer hours, direct contact with the virus as they treat patients, and exposure to death on a regular basis. The impact of all this and more was highlighted when one New York City physician, Dr. Lorna Breen, committed suicide during the last week of April.
But it’s not only healthcare workers who are susceptible to the stresses of the pandemic and its effects. Social isolation and loneliness, job loss, financial pressures, health concerns, the loss of loved ones, the growing social and political division, or simply the looming uncertainty of what will happen both personally and corporately can have a significant impact on our minds and hearts. Again, Christians are not immune to the impact of these losses, pressures, and fears. If history is a trustworthy teacher, I sadly expect that rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide will increase in this season.
How We Can Respond
One thing that’s been clear in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is our inability to fix or control what’s happening. But there are a few things we can do as a church in response to what I’ve shared:
- Lament the increase in domestic abuse in our community and the growing impact of the pandemic on the minds and hearts of many people. These issues are not “out there” but are very close to home and in our midst. Let’s lament this reality and ask for God to restore and heal what is broken.
- Open our eyes to the realities of domestic abuse, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts that are in our community. Ask each other good questions, listen well to one another, and be intentional to find out how others are really doing. Be the kind of spiritual friend with whom it is safe to share struggles. If someone shares something with you and you’re not sure how to help, reach out to someone who can—your parish elder, another ministry leader, or a pastor.
- If you are experiencing any of these issues, it is okay to admit it. Share with a friend, a ministry leader, your parish elder or deacon, or a pastor. Are you located in the Indianapolis area? During this time, College Park Church is offering free community counseling. We have people who would love to walk alongside you with compassionate, Christ-centered care.
Despite the staggering impact, both the obvious and the hidden, of COVID-19, remember that in Christ, we can find hope. I pray that we will keep speaking gospel truth to one another, as well as with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members.