A SENIOR cleric has said that the nation’s mental and emotional wellbeing must receive the same level of investment and effort as the campaign to eradicate Covid-19.
Parish Priest of Tulla, Fr Brendan Quinlivan, said that once the pandemic is under control, the government and public health officials must turn their attention to tackling the psychological fall-out being experienced by all generations. Fr Quinlivan, who is also the Killaloe diocesan communications officer, said that one of the biggest challenges will be dealing with unresolved grief for those who have been bereaved during the pandemic.
“There are huge concerns about what the legacy of Covid-19 will be in terms of mental health and wellbeing,” he said. “We are increasingly hopeful about the roll-out of vaccines and the return to normal life, but we need to make sure that as much time, effort and investment is poured into addressing the impact of the lockdowns on so many people. Our children and young people have lost so much in terms of education, growth and development. Others have been bereaved without access to the normal supports. So many mental health issues arise from unresolved and unexpressed grief and the restricts have greatly reduced the opportunities to mourn those who have died.”
Fr Quinlivan said the restrictions around funeral traditions had been particularly deeply felt. “We all understand the need to protect physical health and to follow the public health guidelines,” he said, “but, likewise, there has to be a recognition on the part of government, NPHET and all of the national service providers, that people are going to need action to be taken to address the impact the restrictions have had. As a priest, I would often have the role of inviting mourners to gatherings after a funeral. I believe there is something sacred in coming together to share stories that round out the picture of someone who has been loved and lost. Those stories sustain us when our hearts are breaking and they are part of the grieving process.
“Last year, death notices had a line to say that memorial mass would be celebrated a future day. We are a year down the road and I’m celebrating first anniversary masses in almost empty churches. Milestones have passed including month’s minds and Christmas. People have had to mark Mother’s Day without their mother. Many have been alone on these days. Grandparents have lost partners and are unable to share stories with their grandchildren. They’re fearful that their loved one will be forgotten by the younger generation. Grief needs to be shared and to be spoken.”
The Tulla pp added that the challenge facing national authorities would be to maintain the public health campaign in the wake of Covid, and to re-direct it towards the legacy of the disease. “We have hope that Covid will be brought under control,” he said, “and hope is one of the most important things to foster in people. We will win the war, but our health authorities and government must make sure to win the peace. The physical threat will be defeated and we need our politicians and the likes of NPHET to address the toll on the nation’s emotional and mental health. They must work as hard as they did against Covid to make sure that good mental health is restored and isolate tackled. We’ve had every GP in the country tasked with administering vaccines. We’re going to need a roll-out of counselling and support to people too.”
Fr Quinlivan said that the conflicted emotions and frustration of lockdowns also needs to be tackled. “We have reached a stage now where people are deeply conflicted,” he said. “We understand the importance of health and safety and of protecting the common good. At the same time, people have a deep need for those things that give nourishment to the soul and energy to the spirit. People are frustrated on so many levels and a balance must be restored.”
In relation to the return of religious services, Fr Quinlivan said he believed that is unlikely to happen in the coming weeks. “All people of faith have an incredible desire to connect and to worship publicly, but we are not expecting to have public ceremonies this Easter,” he said. “We will have online ceremonies and will need our volunteers to continue their great efforts to make them possible. I would also encourage families to gather around the laptop or the phone screens to take part at home in the Easter ceremonies.”