By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Stay-at-home orders and being quarantined have been a blessing for many as they have been able to finally finish those home projects, dusting off partially read books and perhaps even strengthening family ties through spending so much time together.

Others, however, have not been so fortunate. Isolation has created anxiety and in many cases depression, according to Darryl Ducote, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

“It depends on how you interpret the stay-at-home order,” Ducote said. “For a lot of people, this is just an inconvenience, ‘I’m bored.’

“But for some people it can be a big deal if their health is threatened, if they are terrified of getting the disease, or more often the case people are out of work and out of money.”

Ducote said how people perceive the threat created by the pandemic will determine how it will affect them emotionally or psychologically. Fear can be the driving force that can be the catalyst to depression, but he said being isolated does not mean an individual has to lose contact with family.

Conversely, staying in contact with others through a myriad of communication devices available will subjugate those feelings of loneliness.

“If you are isolating yourself as a result of fear or anxiety, then yes it can have a very negative affect (in an individual) and perpetuate the fear,” he said. “It could exacerbate the situation because there is nothing pushing you to break out of it if you have that tendency. You really have to come to a point where you recognize that may not be in your best interest and reach out.”

Warning signs of depression include withdrawing from others, feelings of sadness and thoughts of hopelessness.

Ducote acknowledged uncertainty regarding people’s employment status can be depressing and even affect their sense of hope. When faced with such a threat, people often show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, displaying symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, becoming edgy, stuck in fear or using emotional numbness as a coping mechanism.

When experiencing trauma, such as the current pandemic, Ducote said “most everyone” will exhibit signs of PTSD but the majority of people will start seeking ways to deal with the threat. Statistics show only about eight percent of people who experience trauma develop PTSD.

“The situation is a crisis but one of the givens is trauma brings about change, either change for the negative or change for the positive,” Ducote said.

Positive change can actually lead to a richer and fuller life when emerging from the crisis, he said, but negative changes can lead one to “get stuck,” he said. In those instances the person becomes focused on the fear, the fear grows and changes in the brain making it increasingly difficult to break out of it, which leads to PTSD.

Ducote offered six strategies to cope with the mental strain created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the first is telling a new story, which means recognizing that a person cannot have his or her old life back and that the trauma shattered what they thought was their old life. That individual has to create a new sense of “who I am, where I want to go, what my goals are,” Ducote said.

Other strategies include relying on and connecting to others, as well as feeling a sense of gratitude for the blessing each person has; expressing oneself by telling your story to others verbally or through journaling; looking for and identifying the positive in one’s life such as a greater appreciation for family and friends or even exercising more; being open to new experiences; and finally, finding meaning in faith.

“Coming to believing and recognizing that God is with us during these difficult times to offer support and ultimately believing God can transform this into something new like he transformed Jesus’ death in the resurrection is one of the most important elements of dealing with trauma,” Ducote said.

Unfortunately, domestic violence has also risen during these past two months, sparked by the fear a person prone to violence might have of losing control and maintaining control of everyone around them.

Overall, Ducote said the crisis is difficult in its early stages but if people are willing to make changes and re-evaluate their life situation, growth is possible.

Ducote is in the process of recording a video presentation on post traumatic growth that will be available on CatholicLife TV and YouTube.