One of the 'benefits' of the CV19 problem has been that is has seen a growth in community spirit - people looking out for one another. Groups and individuals in my parish area have been co-operating to distribute resources, check on neighbors and insure that the public know help is at hand for those in need.
This has encouraged a positive environment in which to deal with our many challenges.
As the government consider ways in which to cautiously emerge from isolation, we have never had a better opportunity to tackle the challenge of poor mental health. Let’s consider some cultural and sporting means by which this may be achieved.
*Evidence points to the effectiveness of the men's shed movement across the globe. In one New York district, suicide rates were substantially reduced amongst men who became involved in their local Men’s Shed. There’s a number in our own town, including a popular one in Harryville. Maybe time to start more across Ballymena?
*In Wakehurst, we see older lads football. Could that be copied or grown? I've been looking at sporting examples elsewhere. Ex-hurlers in Belfast set up "Half Pace" Hurling for older men. It's been fantastic for raising the endorphins and sense of enthusiasm of men in 40-60 age bracket. I even have had a go myself and thoroughly enjoy learning a different sporting skill - as I fast approach my 5th decade.
*What about something musical? In Ballykeel we have a well established flute band tradition. In our own Church we've had Ulster Scots concerts featuring the primary school choir and the Ballykeel LSOU band. Maybe there's space for more cultural sharing at a community level? This does not have to be co-ordinated by council or external agency. Local communities are very good at driving cultural celebration at low cost. This is going to be more not less important in coming years.
*What about language studies? Could we learn something new or re-learn old? My Presbyterian mother, now in her eighties, grew up in Donegal learning Irish. She has joined a class in East Belfast to brush up on her Gaelic. It’s been great for mental stimulation.
*Art? On occasion I have visited homes in our parish in which an item of art is displayed, produced by the resident. I have been amazed at the latent talent. Now is a good moment for our artists to confidently display their talent for the common good.
Or photography? There's some seriously good amateur photographers in Ballykeel if Facebook is anything to go by - I’d happily facilitate an exhibition.
*Prayer is good for mental health too. We are body, mind and soul. Talking with God, learning the Gospel, repenting, trusting growing in spiritual strength - all of this
is good for relational and mental health. There’s never been a better time to think about Christianity - and to address our lives holistically.
It might be that the virus keeps us restricted for a sustained period. But there’s every incentive to hope for a better future. I for one, do not want to go back to the winter we've just experienced. We have the collective capacity to make the good response. As we stand and clap the NHS on Thursday nights, we could serve them well by embracing the challenge of better mental and social well being.
Dr Martin McNeely is minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian Church, Ballymena