At Rung for Women, wellbeing is essential to our program. With everything that’s going on with COVID-19 we know a lot of people are dealing with loss both of loved ones, community, and connectivity.

On Thursday, April 30th 2020, Rung came together virtually with our co-designers, Safe Connections and Provident Behavioral Health to discuss grief and resilience women are facing during the time of COVID-19. Below is a recap of our conversation about the impacts of grief, and the importance of resilience at this time and to at the very least let you know you’re not alone.

We rarely talk about how isolation and social distancing can have an impact on mental health. Can you describe how mental health concerns may be manifesting for people in various states of isolation?

Lindsay Jeffries, LPC, CRC, CFTP, Director of Clinical Services, Provident Inc.:
I think mental health […] especially for those who have maybe already been facing mental health concerns, can be exacerbated by the isolation that they’re experiencing right now and/or the extra stress that has been put on them because of the pandemic

“Resilience is often more powerful when shared.”

Cora McElwain, LMSW, LGBTQ+ Therapist, Safe Connections:
Resilience is often more powerful when shared, when shared with family, friends, and community. And resilience is often easier to kind of access with support. So this disconnectedness that we’re experiencing because of COVID-19 makes resilience and coping even harder.

Cora, Safe Connections, your organization, is really phenomenal and has a long-standing history of prevention, education, and advocacy for domestic violence and sexual violence survivors. Can you talk a little about how women could be more susceptible to situations like this with the stay-at-home order in place, as well as let them know what resources are available to them at this time?

Cora McElwain:
[What] we see in times of stress like housing instability, unemployment, a global pandemic (like a lot of us are experiencing right now), is that…

“Abusers and assailants of sexual and domestic violence are more likely to perpetrate these behaviors and crimes on folks that are less enfranchised…”

Cora McElwain:
…like women, like folks of color, like the immigrating refugee community. SafeConnections is a place you can call if you are particularly stressed, if you are worried about your own mental health or someone else’s mental health, needing connected to resources and if there’s any concern in your life or someone else you know that there is domestic sexual violence or child abuse going on.

Below are Cora’s recommendations for ways to seek support

  • Leaning on safe and healthy relationship with friends and family
  • Seeking out support groups on Facebook
  • Contacting the Safe Connections helpline

On the other side of that we know that healthy relationships are really critical to a person’s mental health during this time and we know for a lot of people but especially women, they’re feeling isolated and disconnected. So how can we foster relationships when we can’t physically be with others?

Lindsay Jeffries:
Above and beyond doing Facetime with your friends or colleagues or family members, one of the things I really like to do is write a gratitude letter, or gratitude email to someone just sharing with that person what it is that I really appreciate about them. And I think that is so great because it not only makes [you] feel good recognizing why you appreciate this person, why you’re so grateful for them, but it is also great on the other end for the person receiving that message. It just brightens their day knowing someone is thinking about them.

“One of the things I really like to do is write a gratitude letter, or gratitude email to someone just sharing with that person what it is that I really appreciate about them.”

Cora McElwain:
That was such a fantastic answer. Just lean into what is safe and healthy and feels good for you and your family.

Below are suggestions for how to stay connected to your love ones

  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone you know
  • Arrange to exercise or color over Facetime at the same time.
  • Have a trivia night over Zoom

Grief is an area everyone is really dealing with right now even if they’re really unaware of it. Dealing with that sense of loss of normalcy, of habits and routines and overall just not feeling safe with lack of security. Can you talk a little bit about grief in this context, especially when accessing mental health facilities is a little more challenging, and how we can address mental health during this time?

Cora McElwain:
Grief is such a unique process for each individual. There are as many ways to grieve as there are people in this world. Sometimes it depends on what type of community or culture or faith or life experiences you come from. Identifying grief can be a little tricky because of where we are so different. So keeping an eye out on ourselves or our loved ones of anything that’s different about us.

“It’s ok if we’re different, but it might be a sign of grief.”

Below are ways we can approach dealing with our grief

  • Be gentle and non-judgmental with yourself
  • Stay connected with family and friends
  • Seek out professional support 

Can either of you share the difference between depression and grief and anxiety just to help the audience what those distinctions look like and where there is some overlap as well?

Cora McElwain:
Grief is a very natural and expected process when something big changes in our lives. COVID-19 is big, it’s huge. So feeling irritable, feeling different or angry or upset during this time makes a lot of sense. And there is a lot of overlap between grief, depression and anxiety; we can experience all of these at the same time.

“Grief is a very natural and expected process when something big changes in our lives”

Lindsay can you talk a little bit about what grief might look like in children; how that might be showing up and how parents can keep an eye out for that at home with kids?

Lindsay Jeffries:
Much like what Cora said, changes in behavior are going to be the first signs of what you’re going to see in children.

“Any things that just seem unusual for your child, those are typically the first signs that we look for that indicate that they might be struggling a bit more with social isolation and COVID.”

Below are signs Lindsay advises to watch for in children who may be struggling

  • Temper tantrums
  • Not sleeping as well
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits

We have a question from a viewer who says her son seems overly concerned with death and thinking they may die. They are autistic and they want to make a gadget to make them feel young again. Any thoughts around that?

“It’s natural for them to start asking questions about death and dying.”

Lindsay Jeffries:
As kids hear or overhear the media and things like that talking about the COVID pandemic, it’s natural and normal for them to start asking questions about death and dying. I think that it’s really important for parents to explain to them what’s happening but in a way that they can understand. So making it very basic and very simple but also reassuring at the same time that they and their family are taking a lot of precautions so that people don’t get sick and things like that.

We’ve got a couple questions about how to find a therapist during this time. A lot of therapists are operating virtually and providing that support. But if a person is interested in pursuing counseling, how do they go about doing that?

Lindsay Jeffries:
Both Provident and SafeConnection are offering telehealth services at this point in time so we’re always here for you and always a really good resource. Other really good ways to find a therapist is by contacting your insurance company and seeing who is a provider within your particular insurance panel.

Cora McElwain:
And if you unfortunately don’t have insurance at this time there are free services in the community. SafeConnections is a no cost or free service and there are a few others in the greater St. Louis region that are providing telehealth counseling and are no-cost.

“You are always welcome to call our SafeConnections helpline to see if they have any information on if any agencies are taking clients at no cost”