A Message from the Pacific Health Ministry Chaplaincy Team at The Hawaiʻi State Hospital
Chaplains Scott Berggren and Chuck Card

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to our lives. We are all spending little to no time in the communities that surround us. Going to buy groceries or filling the gas tanks in our cars are both liberating and, at the same time, nerve-wracking. This is only the case if we actually have a job and can purchase many of the items that we need to maintain our daily lifestyles.

On top of all this, some individuals may be struggling with their healthcare due to loss of insurance, or working to keep their children engaged because school has been cancelled for the rest of the year. Domestic violence and suicide are of great concern during this time, with early signs showing an increase in such issues caused by the high level of stress, unemployment, isolation and many other factors that are currently heightened. These times we’re living in are affecting everyone we know—including ourselves.

Now on top of all this, imagine having a mental illness. This could include worrying excessively about things others might consider irrational, hearing and responding to voices that are only heard inside our heads, feeling so depressed that you become numb to the world around you, or displaying an inappropriate level of irritability due to racing, disconnected thoughts.

For individuals with these and many other mental illness, maintaining a normalcy in a regular day can be challenging. When you combine these stressors with the numerous life-changing challenges brought on by COVID-19, navigating mental illness can be unbearable.

What can one do to maintain their health, especially their mental health, during these challenging times?

This is a question I try to answer every day. As a mental health chaplain serving with Pacific Health Ministry at a forensic psychiatric hospital, I focus on connecting individuals to their spiritual resources. Spirituality provides people with purpose and meaning in life, and helps us develop a value system. It also connects us with something that is larger than ourselves. Spirituality can be vital to us, especially during a crisis.

The individuals with whom I work have been admitted to the hospital because their mental illness has made it challenging to interact with the world around them. They have also committed a crime. Being at the hospital is usually the alternative to being in jail. These individuals have been separated from their families and community and deal with a host of spiritual and emotional issues. I usually lead spiritual groups and religious services to help patients connect with their form of spirituality. I also meet individually with patients and staff as needed to offer them spiritual support.

With the presence of COVID-19, my chaplain colleague, Chuck Card, and I have needed to change our approach to spiritual care. No one is allowed on the patient units at this time, except for those directly working on those units. As chaplains, Chuck and I are now being creative in finding ways to connect with our patients. We record a DVD with the weekly Sunday service and show this video to patients. Additionally, Chaplain Card and I provide a bulletin for the patients that includes songs, words of encouragement, and poems. These resources are greatly appreciated by our struggling patients.

As COVID-19 continues to change the way we conduct regular business, Chuck and I will seek new ways to offer spiritual and emotional care to the patients we are called to serve.

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