Kristy Robison

Hope Place Director Kristy Robison works with refugees dealing with trauma while adjusting to life in the U.S.

COVID-19 has been traumatic for everyone. 

People have lost loved ones and haven’t been able to have funerals. Kids can’t see their friends or grandparents. Parents can’t go to work. Many have lost jobs, and senior adults try to survive isolation in nursing homes.

According to TIME, mental distress among young adults and those with children has increased 700%.

As the director at Hope Place, Kristy Robison deals with trauma every day as she works with refugees adjusting to life in the U.S. The goal at the nonprofit supported by Southeast Christian Church is to bring wholeness, unity and healing to Louisville communities in the name of Jesus.

Recovering from trauma is part of life at Hope Place.

She believes healing comes from connection and relationship.

“Science has now proven that to actually change the brain and help it heal from trauma goes back to a timeless Biblical truth—God calls us to connection and relationship with Him and our neighbors,” she said. “We join Him in this redemptive work through our relationships with others by truly loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Understanding trauma makes it easier to give grace to others and to yourself. The Outlook talked with Robison about trauma and COVID-19.

How can we help our children handle tough situations such as COVID-19?

In my opinion, through research, the most vital thing we can do is to be a safe, stable, nurturing relationship in their lives. Nurturing releases oxytocin (happy hormone), and that actually inhibits the stress response and protects our brain and organs from damage done by stress. Yep! Your hugs and affection will tremendously aid your child when they go through tough situations.

This is why children who go through significant trauma who have at least one loving, supportive relationship in their life can overcome and be resilient, whereas someone with similar trauma without that may end up dealing with a host of life issues.

What are obvious signs that people are struggling with trauma?

We all experience and react to tough situations like COVID differently. Some of the obvious signs that someone may be struggling include: isolating (not just social distancing), difficulty sleeping or focusing, restlessness, changes in appetite (undereating or overeating), changes in mood, reassurance-seeking, clinginess in children, more complaints of headaches and stomachaches, behavior changes (acting out in children), worsening of mental health conditions, increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

How is COVID-19 affecting refugees who have become like family?

The pandemic is definitely affecting our refugee and immigrant population. It triggers past trauma. They worry about not having enough food, not being able to support their families, not being able to get the assistance they need due to not being fluent in English or not understanding the specific processes necessary. Many of our families that we regularly serve are unable to help their children with their school work, didn’t understand the process of getting a Chromebook and Internet access (from Jefferson County Public Schools) and are living in survival mode.

What do you think when you meet someone who is difficult or unresponsive?

Now that I understand trauma and how it affects people, I see it everywhere. When an individual is being difficult or unresponsive, instead of thinking, “What’s wrong with them?” I have changed my thinking to, “I wonder what happened to them in their life?” I recognize that many people are fighting a hard battle that we know nothing about and that allows me to have much more grace with everyone I work with. With time and hard work, many trauma survivors who come into a relationship with Jesus can turn their messy lives into an amazing message of how God redeems and heals.

How can we help children with loss and fear?

One of the basics of trauma-informed care is to help children with warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching and modeling they need to express and modulate their thoughts, behaviors and feelings. A caring adult can model how to manage fear and loss in healthy ways with coping skills we use ourselves: breathing exercises, praying, practicing mindfulness, using grounding exercises, going for a walk, getting fresh air, journaling, talking about their feelings.

Our first instinct may be to try to fix it. Instead, we need to acknowledge their feelings and be present with them in those hard emotions. When children’s needs are met this way, they learn that they can trust the adults in the world to care for them. Eventually, they will have the self-regulation skills to handle hard things without so much support.