2021 Annual Conference: Recap, Clergy Appointments, AC Videos, Worship Service Videos

Mental Health Awareness Month: How communities of faith can help people heal


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Divorce. Empty nests. Dementia. Deployment. Miscarriage. Traumatic injury. Addiction.

A global pandemic.

In her seven years serving as associate pastor at Vineville United Methodist Church in Macon, Rev. Grace Guyton has seen countless people experience ambiguous loss.

A loss that occurs without closure or clear understanding, ambiguous loss often leaves a person searching for answers. It complicates and delays the process of grieving and often results in unresolved grief.

Rev. Guyton, who is working towards licensure as a marriage and family therapist, said that, in the past year, everyone has experienced ambiguous loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, there have been a lot of ambiguous losses that we’ve encountered as individuals and as a whole community and nation,” she said. “We were separated from friends and family and we didn’t know how long it was going to go on. We have all experienced ambiguous loss.”

There are two types of ambiguous loss, Rev. Guyton said, those that include physical absence and those that include psychological absence, but both rupture relationships and create trauma.

Seeing the need for conversations and resources about mental health in general and ambiguous loss specifically, Rev. Guyton recently hosted a two-part Ambiguous Loss workshop via Zoom. With time for teaching, discussion, and questions, she also recorded the sessions and posted them to Facebook so those who weren’t able to participate live could still access the information.

In her pastoral and clinical work, Rev. Guyton has seen a rise in anxiety and depression. She is also aware of a general sense of malaise and fatigue brought about by the pandemic and the uncertainty it’s caused.

“I don’t think we have thought about how much our daily rhythms, routines, and structures were so meaningful for our lives and gave us a sense of purpose,” she said. “All of that has been disrupted.”

With her Ambiguous Loss workshop, she hopes educating people helps them grieve and better understand and process their own or someone else’s emotions.

“When you’re going through something, if you can put a name to it, it helps to begin to process it and work through it,” she said. “I think one of the reasons understanding ambiguous loss is helpful is because we’ve been in limbo for so long and our brains really struggle with ambiguity.”

Even if individuals aren’t dealing with a grief they can name – caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, having a child with an addiction problem, or living with a deployed spouse – these days everyone is dealing with some sort of loss.

There are tangible ways communities of faith can help congregants cope, Rev. Guyton said.

“Overall, people are feeling tired, isolated, anxious, and depressed,” she said. “I think what people need are connection and community in whatever form they can get it.”

While May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s always a good time to check on folks, to have conversations about mental health, and to become more educated and aware.

“I think the first thing we can do is openly talk about it and create space to talk,” Rev. Guyton said. “Ask, ‘How is your soul,’ and talk about the ways we’re all struggling. Draw from scripture and lament.”

Name it, talk about it, and normalize it, she said.

“It’ll differ by congregation, but show that care and connection in whatever way you can.”

Interested in learning more about Ambiguous Loss? Watch Rev. Guyton’s video sessions on Facebook or contact her at graceguyton@gmail.com.

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