As we move out of COVID restrictions, many of us will have mixed feelings. We are delighted at the prospect of freedom and of being able to plan our lives. But we also continue to feel for so many people whose lives have been turned upside down by the virus. We remember those who have died and their families, those still recovering from it, those unemployed and without income and the health workers, cleaners, police and essential workers who have supported the community through their tireless and difficult work.
Such testing experience and dislocation of normal relationships test our mental health and sense of wellbeing. Over the last two years, we have constantly heard how COVID can throw into crisis people whose mental health is precarious and can cause young people in particular acute stress. The need for counselling and professional care in our society will remain high.
This is certainly the world in which we live at Jesuit Social Services. In many of our programs, we provide counselling and other forms of care for young people who live under great pressure. Such professional care is an indispensable service to the people whom we serve. We have seen its need and the blessing it can bring to people of all ages in our Support after Suicide programme. It is, however, only part of the larger picture of how we encourage mental health and build wellbeing within our work.
We can easily think of mental health and wellbeing in terms of their opposites – mental illness and melancholy. Then our minds turn immediately to problem-solving and asking how people might be healed. That is enormously important. Equally important, however, are the more simple ways of supporting people. These consist of shaping the network of good relationships among ourselves, the people whom we serve, and with our world which will make us glad to get up into the morning, make us look forward to meet our friends, and make our work an adventure as well as a chore. These are the flowers on the plants of mental health and wellbeing.
The rich soil in which these plants grow is love – a challenging and little-used word in organisations. In our culture, it is often reserved for private and not for public relationships – those between mothers and their children and between couples, for example. It is about private and not public relationships. But in any community or organisation that makes growing mental health and wellbeing its goal, love will be the engine. It is shown in the generosity we bring to our work, the personal care we have for people as persons rather than as clients, in our flexibility to drop what we are working at to meet a greater need and our enjoyment of one another’s company and our pride in one another’s work. Love is shown in these things, deepens them and makes them a gift.
If love is the engine of our accompanying one another, it also lays the bricks of mental health and wellbeing. People who are drawn into our company out of despair will see possibility for their lives.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.