Accompanying people in psychological distress in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

MEMBERS OF ONE BODY, LOVED BY ONE LOVE <br> Accompanying people in psychological distress in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic - the first epidemic to spread globally - has laid bare our physical frailty and immune deficiency in the face of a virus that the human body does not recognize.

Albeit all available means were used to treat the sick, the psychological suffering caused or worsened by the deep concerns over this unknown disease has been hardly considered.

Most especially, the loss of control over our personal existence and the life that we share with our loved ones has been a source of major concern. When medical expertise and treatments have suddenly proven unsuitable, ineffectual or unsuccessful, the fear of the unknown has prompted the following questions: “What will become of me?”, “What will become of us?”

The death of a family member and, especially, the impossibility to celebrate a funeral rite for a deceased loved one can generate psychological and, at times, psychiatric distress. The lockdown and the reduced social activity can amplify relational weaknesses, producing family violence, especially difficult because we live believing in life and rely on those whom we love.

In a paradoxical, and to some, unsustainable way, we have regained awareness of our being made of body and relationships, inner and social life, love and hope. These dimensions are all interconnected. When one of these suffers, our whole being is affected.

We may say that mental health is the right inner harmony among our “subjectivity” (our selfimage), our interpersonal relationships (identification and recognition) and the “objectivity” of our human history (events and interpretation).

Psychological distress may range from melancholic depression to suicide, but it serves us as a reminder that we exist with the other; and when this physical or symbolic closeness is jeopardised, we may go through states of anxiety, episodes of violence and suffering. This experience is both personal and communal, as it incarnates perfectly Saint Paul’s analogy on the body: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12, 26).

More radically, we may say that the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has enabled us to touch the core of our human condition and Christian faith: the transition towards death and the relationship between death and life, and fear and hope.

This document aims to present some elements for reflection and some insights to those who are close to the people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to those who are called to accompany them. In fact, these elements shall hopefully provide anthropological, theological, ethical, spiritual and pastoral orientations that could support those who secretly struggle with anxiety, while urging them to be renewed through the loving compassion of Christ, who made Himself close, healed through listening and forgiveness and spoke a healing and uplifting Word to all.

Fraternal accompaniment embraces all the dimensions of our humanity in an approach that is both reciprocal and loving: “Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and  understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue” 



We have three very similar, though different terms that describe the approach to a person’s psychological dimension. Therefore, it is imperative to make a distinction among them, while trying to understand their underlying relationship.

 Mental dimension: a person’s sensory and intellectual capacity to grasp and interpret the reality of his/her existence.

 Psychical dimension: a person’s capacity to establish and maintain relationships with reality and with others and to let events touch him/her.

 Psychological dimension: a person’s knowledge of his/her subjectivity:

A person’s relationship with his/her body, story, and the narrative of his/her social and personal life.

Clearly, these three definitions are closely intertwined, but should be considered separately as we reflect on and carry out our activities of accompaniment.


Mgr Bruno-Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development 


The global epidemic of COVID-19 has challenged our physical resistance and revealed the fragility of our bodies. It has also affected the psychological balance of many people. Concern about a mysterious, unknown disease and an elusive future has activated the fear of death - and the fear of loneliness or abandonment - for many. The experience of mourning for loved ones or friends, without the possibility of funeral rites, was all the more powerful for those suffering from mental frailty.               

It seemed important for a team from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to propose an in-depth reflection to those who are involved in accompanying particularly vulnerable people: the elderly, migrants, seafarers, the unemployed and homeless, people in detention. Without forgetting those who give their skills, their strengths and sometimes even their lives to caring for others.

Accompanying is not always easy, when one is faced with lonely, depressed, distraught brothers and sisters who have sometimes lost the points of reference and support through which a life is built, in dignity and hope. Confinement itself has sometimes amplified certain anxieties or provoked acts of violence, within families or in certain neighbourhoods of our cities.

We wanted to recall the basics of an attitude of understanding. Because it is above all a matter of listening to and understanding the human person: body, soul, relationship, desire and hope. It is about taking on a responsibility that is fundamentally a reciprocity: when a person feels listened to, they feel better. The spiritual dimension - which is the need to breathe and trust - is vital. It is an encounter with the Other, without fear, and a recognition that consoles and uplifts.

The Church, in each of its members, is called to live a mission that is, above all, a presence. Accompaniment is a delicate attention, a solicitude that breaks loneliness. "I think and will think of you; think also of me": this is the message of discreet and respectful accompaniment. With living accompaniment, we understand that we accompany one another.

In the manner of the Good Samaritan, to whom Pope Francis refers in his encyclical "Fratelli tutti" (October 2020), we let ourselves be touched by the one who is abandoned on the side of the road and we find our joy in offering him our consideration and our love.

Video presentation of the document Monsignor Bruno-Marie Duffé, Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

18 March 2021