COVID-19 and Lasting Impacts on Social Interactions
Esylen Stephens, a bereavement specialist for Good Shepherd Hospice, provides her opinion on how COVID-19 continues to impact her social interactions two years after the pandemic began.
How important is social interaction to a person’s individual happiness? It’s not an easy answer and wholly dependent on who you’re asking. Increasing social interaction, while difficult through the COVID-19 pandemic, can decrease feelings of loneliness and depression according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effect of social distancing and isolation measures became a serious mental health concern, especially for those who needed to quarantine for longer periods of time, such as hospice patients. While the pandemic is under greater control in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Biden, said the pandemic is not over.
The question now is, how do we learn to live with COVID-19 and manage the changes it has forced on our society? For Esylen Stephens, a licensed mental health counselor with Good Shepherd Hospice’s bereavement services, her mission is the same. Support those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. But how she fulfills her mission changed and may never be the same again.
Give me an example of how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your life. What do you see continuing as a part of your everyday life when the pandemic is over?
Esylen: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed my life in having a deeper sense of empathy, compassion and grief support for those who have experienced losses. It has taught me not to take life and people for granted while practicing gratitude.
What impact has COVID-19 had on your mission to provide grief support in general? What is the single biggest challenge?
Esylen: The impact that COVID-19 had on my mission and the bereavement department was finding a way to provide quality services for those who lost loved ones. It was important to stay connected to those who were grieving the loss of loved ones. Since in-person visits were not an appropriate method to provide services during the pandemic we had to find alternative ways. We became very familiar with Zoom virtual visits, phone call visits and Face Time. The single biggest challenge was remembering to practice self-care while caring for others who were hurting.
Camp Brave Heart, Good Shepherd Hospice’s signature grief camp for children, returned to an in-person format this year. How would you compare the experience to a virtual format?
Esylen: I believe an in-person format is much more effective than a virtual format. The virtual format, although helpful, has its challenges. The in-person format allowed children to come together and share their feelings of loss. It provides healing while having fun through play and different activities. Children do not like to be singled out along their grief journey. The camps provided an opportunity for them to be with other children who have also experienced loss. It provides them an opportunity to be aware that death is a natural part of life and that it is okay to grieve. It is a place where their voice can be heard without judgment. The caring and compassionate trained staff, professionals and volunteers provided a safe and loving environment to promote healing.
Many people wore masks during the height of the pandemic and some still do. How has that impacted your social interactions with patients and families? How did you adapt?
Esylen: The wearing of masks during the pandemic made it harder to interpret facial expressions. I have learned to interpret individuals through looking at their eyes. The eyes tell what’s in the soul. I would say the normal social interaction and the bereavement support we provide is very important and vital in the healing process. Human beings need each other to survive and staying connected and receiving support from others affects the way we grieve as a society.
What are your thoughts on support groups focused on the impact of the pandemic, such as the one provided by Good Shepherd Hospice?
Esylen: In my opinion it is very important to have support groups focused on the impact of the pandemic, such as the one Good Shepherd Hospice provides. COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic have impacted individuals in ways that may be difficult to process alone. The support group provides participants a chance to share their story and experiences from this specific type of loss. It also allows participants to know that they are not alone in their grieving process.
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