Signs Someone in Your Online Ministry Needs Extra Help

Many of you are engaging with those to whom you minister almost entirely online at the moment. This change in dynamics has meant a learning curve for everyone. As this may continue for at least a few more weeks, we need to spend a little time discussing the signs that one of your Bible students or their parents may need some professional help.

Most of us are not trained psychiatrists or therapists. We are not really equipped to handle problems like depression, suicidal tendencies or abuse without the assistance of trained professionals. In fact, we shouldn’t try to help beyond a certain point without training…or we could make manners worse.

Because people are rarely leaving their homes now, children, teens and adults at risk for depression or adults at risk for abusing their spouses and/or children are at greater risk for increased symptoms and making dangerous choices. The normal places where someone might notice something is amiss and intervene are gone.

Your online relationships with your Bible students and their parents may be the only prospect at intervention some of these families have. They may not realize they are in danger or know how to ask for help. You may need to be proactive in getting them the help they need.

It’s important to understand, everyone has the blues occasionally during this COVID quarantine. It’s when those blues become constant depression, that intervention is needed. Some people are more irritable because of the various stressors of the current situation. It’s when they hurt themselves or others in their anger that intervention is needed.

Knowing when to intervene is never easy. Therapists I have known say to err on the side of caution and intervene… especially if you suspect suicidal tendencies or abuse. In cases of child abuse, many of you are already mandatory reporters in your state.

Many of the normal signs that people use to identify people who are struggling and need outside help are hard to notice when your interaction is only virtual. By careful observation though, you can perhaps notice these telltale warning signals.

Abuse – It is important to remember that abuse can start at any point in a relationship – particularly in seasons of severe stress. It’s also important to note that men who end up killing their spouses rarely appear as men with anger issues to outsiders. The DASH risk assessment tool can help identify women at greatest risk of being eventually murdered by their spouses. If you suspect abuse, get a professional to intervene. Trying to intervene without training could lead to someone’s death. These are some signs someone you minister to may be abused by a spouse or parent.

  • The person disappears from social media. Actually what you want to look for are changes in their patterns of interacting with social media. Someone who regularly posts and then disappears with no comment. A person whose posts suddenly become very dark or veiled. Or a person who normally posts a lot of selfies, but then the photos stop or they are from weird angles as if trying to hide a part of their face.
  • Doesn’t take phone calls or speaks as if someone is eavesdropping on the conversation. Younger people today don’t use the phone in traditional ways as often as do older adults. There is a difference though in someone who doesn’t know how to talk on the phone and someone who is afraid what they say may be overheard and result in an abusive encounter. Younger people are also horrible about taking and returning phone calls. Usually leaving a message that it’s really important you speak to them on the phone will get some sort of response.
  • The person’s eyes appear red, puffy or perhaps bruised and covered with heavy makeup in video chats. Obviously, the signs of crying and facial bruises can come from things other than abuse. They are just an indication you may need to ask a few more probing questions.
  • The person starts having injuries with odd explanations. Injuries can be legitimate, but right now people want to avoid the emergency room if at all possible. Most parents are not allowing their kids to participate in extreme activities that cause injuries. Watch especially for frequently running into doors or falling down staircases. It may be legitimate and/or they may need help for a medical issue or it could indeed be from abuse. It’s just another red flag to ask more questions.
  • The person starts lying a lot. Lies cover something up and are always problematic in addition to being sinful. A person who is generally truthful and suddenly begins lying is concerning. They may not be covering up abuse, but rather their own poor coping strategies like substance use or abuse. In any case, the reason for the lies needs to be found.

Depression – It is important to remember , everyone has days when the COVID situation overwhelms them emotionally for some reason. When this natural sadness seems to deepen and last for a week or two, then it may be time to get professional help in assessing whether or not the person needs additional assistance in coping. Here are some additional signs someone may be depressed or suicidal.

  • Fatigue, constant sleep or insomnia. Many people are finding disruptions in sleep patterns because of their change in lifestyle. If someone seems to be struggling with sleep issues more than others, it is a red flag.
  • Loss of interest in things they normally enjoy. Some are choosing to put aside interests they can’t pursue at the moment. If they have always loved reading though, and suddenly show no interest in books it would be something to explore.
  • Overeating or extreme weight loss. This is another area where everyone is experiencing changes based on how they are coping with the quarantine. What you want to watch for are extreme fluctuations in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Pessimism, hopelessness or irritability. Look for drastic changes in personality or mood. Everyone is experiencing mood shifts from day to day throughout this. If someone who is normally positive becomes extremely negative for a couple of weeks, they may be moving into depression.
  • Social media posts that sound extremely depressed or as if someone is saying goodbye. Look for drastic changes in the tone of social media posts or a drastic change in frequency of posts with no explanation. Any mention of suicide should be taken very seriously.
  • Talk of suicide. Talk of suicide is one risk factor that indicates a need for immediate intervention. Only a professional can accurately assess actual risk. Professionals strongly recommend getting the person outside help – even if they claim they were just joking…especially if they have seemed depressed lately.

Right now, it’s essential you regularly interact with your Bible students and their parents in any way virtual reality will allow you to interact. Really pay attention to those interactions for signs of severe coping issues like depression or abuse. Get them outside help if they need it. You may be the only person who can get them the help they need.

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