My therapist friends, and my pastor friends have been swapping notes lately. We are all feeling a shared concern–– that as we begin to come out of the 2020-2021 global pandemic crisis, we are going to see something far more serious in its wake; something all the level of the human soul. I think pastoral ministries are about to face a global mental health crisis. Now the good news is, this is a crisis we have the answer for. Jesus is fabulous at healing human brokenness.
First, an historic comparison: Seventeen years ago the SARS-CoV-1 virus (step cousin to SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19) hit Hong Kong. In three short months it swept the city, killed hundreds, and subsided. Over the next four years, scientists at the University of Hong Kong discovered a mental health fallout. More than 40 percent of SARS survivors experienced mental trauma, most commonly PTSD or depression. Some felt psychosomatic pain, while others were obsessive-compulsive. The researchers called the findings, “alarming.” What Hong Kong went through was a short-lived epidemic within a small region. Think of what more than a year has done to us living through the global march of SARS-CoV-2, and all the accompanying fallout.
Those of us in the helping professions need to understand that what we have all just passed through––or to be fair, are currently passing through what is hoped to be the final stages––this has been nothing short of global trauma. The lockdowns, deaths, fear, economic fallout, social tensions, the constant barrage of bad news…this is traumatizing to the human soul. And we see the effects all around us. Not one therapist I know has room for any more clients; mental health services were overwhelmed in 2020. Pornography use went up, as did drug and alcohol abuse. These are “self-soothing” behaviors, and we see more men than women using them.
In Portland, Oregon public schools closed March 16, 2020 and on March 23 came stay-at-home orders. Following these events, the Portland Police recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence compared to prior weeks. These trends were reported around the world.
I think the pandemic has been especially hard on men, and I think it presents us with an opportunity to offer care in our men’s ministry as we move out of this mess.
Why has it been especially hard on men?
It has to do with the nature of the masculine soul, what men long for, and how they uniquely suffer. The rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among men make sense when you understand how deeply men need to feel competent; we need to feel we can fix the things that are broken in our lives and communities. Men are created to come through; we are created in the image of God, especially in his intervening strength. When those firefighters ran UP the stairs in the World Trade Center on 9/11, when everyone else was running down––that is a perfect picture of good men in action.
Men need to know that we can handle the problems in our world, and that we have something to offer. This is why men fear failure; our deep longing is to know we have what it takes. But instead of calling on men’s strength during this pandemic, we’ve told them to do the most emasculating thing of all––go home, stay home, do nothing. Many men lost their jobs; many found themselves suddenly trying to help homeschool their children, while juggling online from the kitchen or bedroom. These aren’t the only reasons for the mental health crisis, but they are core to understanding it.
In Japan, to cite one example, more men died by suicide in 2020 than had died from Covid-19. There is a hopelessness sweeping the world, and it’s hitting men hardest. We’ve long known that men suffer career setbacks with higher levels of mental distress than women. But this feeling of hopelessness takes it to a new level. Men don’t know if things will get better, and they are giving up.
Another reason for the loss of heart is that the quarantines and lockdowns have robbed men of traditional male-to-male support systems. We’ve lost the natural contact points that bring us into support with other men–game nights, hanging out in the backyard, meeting at the gym. The isolation brought on by the pandemic has been devastating. We’ve got to get men back together, and soon.
I think our messaging to men in the coming months needs to be first one of understanding: “We get it; we understand you; this has been brutal.” If we can help them put words as to how hard this has been, and the reasons unique to the masculine soul, I think that will be a fabulous first step. “You have what it takes to come out of this, and to help in the recovery” would be a very good direction for our work with men.
We need to get men doing stuff together again. This is critical. Men long to feel competent once more. Get them painting a building, fixing cars, clearing trees from the back lot––any sort of physical labor guys can do together and feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards. I’m telling you, it works. Men feel great after they’ve helped fix something.
More deeply, we need to show men that they have a loving Father who has created them for such a time as this; a Father here to guide them, love them, and validate them.
People are going to be surprised that they don’t just “bounce back” from this global trauma. They are going to need some understanding, and shepherding through soul care and healing in the year ahead.
For our part, my team has developed The Wild at Heart Experience, a six-week program designed to bring men together and help them recover hope. The “Experience” features a new film series based on the popular message of the New York Times bestselling book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul. Through the “Experience” men can join groups, host groups, or participate online as part of the Wild at Heart community. (We are also launching a Captivating Experience for women.) All that is available at www.wildatheart.org. The new curricula are also available at Study Gateway.