Acknowledging the pain of the long lockdown

By ROWENA OREJANA  

People can have everything going well for them during this lockdown, but still feel unsettled and have mental health issues.  

          Michael Hempseed

Christchurch-based behavioural expert Michael Hempseed told NZ Catholic the number of people that had reached out to him from all around the country to seek help is higher now than it was in the previous lockdowns.  

“A lot of people have said to me, ‘I don’t know why I’m upset, I don’t know why I’m not coping, it’s not that bad’,” he said.  

“Actually, New Zealand’s been significantly disrupted. It looked like things were going ahead, we opened borders with Australia. It looked like things were moving forward. And then suddenly, we are put in this situation where we don’t know how long it’s going to be, there are far more restrictions on our lives. It’s emotionally draining to be processing this,” he said.  

Mr Hempseed said people tend to put Christmas or the end of the year as their deadline for accomplishing things. They are realising that, in this lockdown, they have probably lost more than a couple of months already.  

“They are probably putting extra pressure on themselves,” he said. “So, maybe think to yourself if you don’t get everything done by the end of the year, just do it next year.”  

The uncertainty arising from lockdowns is not helping.    

“The fact that we [could] go into lockdown at any time, I think, is causing a lot of people fear and worry,” said Mr Hempseed, before the Government announced the new three-setting traffic light system on October 22. “Some of the things that can possibly help with this is one, ultimately, things are going to be OK. Long-term, there is going to be a positive outlook with all these.”  

He said a lot of people may be grieving, and there are a number of reasons for this; job loss or just being unable to go to work, a Christmas family get-together that has been cancelled, or not being able to see family and friends.  

“Sometimes Christians think, if we believe in God, we shouldn’t be upset about some things going wrong. But when Jesus found out Lazarus had died, he wept. And this is remarkable given that, shortly, he’s going to raise him from the dead,” Mr Hempseed said.  

“He knew this pain was only going to be temporary, but he still acknowledged the pain and he was still very upset by this. This shows that Christians can be upset by things that happen, even if we know how the story ends. Even if we know that, ultimately, there’s going to be a good outcome, we can still be upset,” he added.  

Mr Hempseed said, if people or anyone they know seem depressed or grieving, they could go to the doctor so that they can be seen immediately. Sometimes, counsellors can have a fairly long waiting list.  

He strongly suggested that, if a counsellor or a doctor does not seem to help, they could change counsellors or doctors.  

He said that going to a Christian counsellor might be helpful, but “it’s better to have a good secular counsellor than a bad Christian counsellor”.  

Mr Hempseed said, if someone is depressed or grieving, the first thing to do is to acknowledge their pain.  

“If someone’s grieving or they’re upset or going through a hard time, often what we try and do is we try to make it better for them. We say something like, ‘think about how lucky you are. There are far more people worse off than you’,” he said. “The problem is, when people hear that, they often feel insulted.”  

“If you actually want to help someone, you’ve got to acknowledge the pain they’re in. If you really acknowledge what they are going through, that starts to heal some of their pain because they’ve been listened to,” he explained.  

Mr Hempseed said that sometimes grief hits people right away, while for some, grieving could take a while.  

“As a Church, we can’t say to people, you should be over this by now,” he said.   

Offering to do practical things like mowing their lawns or doing their shopping will help.  

“Sometimes, we think, when people are grieving, we have to say the right things to make it all better. But actually, there is no magic sentence that can magically fix all these. What we need to do is just be there for people,” he said.  

 

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Rowena Orejana

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