Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Many health professionals have warned about an "echo pandemic", a mental health crisis owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous surveys conducted over the past few months have indicated a soaring number of Canadians are concerned about, or struggling with, their mental health. It’s not hard to understand why: living through a global pandemic is demanding, exhausting, stressful and incredibly hard on one’s mental health. People are dealing with fears about getting sick, about a loved one getting someone sick, and about job loss amid the economic crisis that has resulted from the pandemic. Others are navigating the isolation and loneliness brought about by physical distancing directives.
That, and winter is coming. When the pandemic hit Manitoba in March, the days were already getting longer and the promise of spring — and, with it, more possibilities for physically distant activity and socialization outdoors — helped blunt the edges of our reality a bit. The prospect of a dark, cold and potentially isolated winter, which also happens to be cold and flu season, has understandably set people on edge about what their mental health will look like come April.
People are also burning out. Now, at the pandemic’s six-month mark, the adrenaline and vigilance that got many through those first few weeks has worn off. For some, that diminished capacity has manifested in sloppier approaches to the fundamentals — masking, handwashing, distancing. For others, it has manifested as anxiety and depression.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact Canadians were already grappling with mental health challenges pre- pandemic. Advocates were already decrying the patchwork accessibility of mental health services in this country, and those suffering were already languishing on waiting lists. Aside from the one day a year of hashtagged corporate feelgoodery, society still doesn’t really know how to talk about mental illness in a non-stigmatizing way — especially when it looks like addiction and homelessness.
Isolation and loneliness are not new problems. Neither is trauma.
There is an opportunity, now, to prepare for what’s coming. The Canadian Mental Health Association has called on the federal government to act now. Part of that will mean bolstering access to preventive mental health services, not just responding to a crisis. "There can be no economic recovery from the pandemic without mental health," said Margaret Eaton, CMHA’s National CEO, in a release. "People need early access to community services, instead of waiting for more intensive and expensive services down the road."
The roll-out of the digital therapy program AbilitiCBT, which is available to Manitobans age 16 or older experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety owing to the pandemic, is an encouraging example of such early-access community services, as is the federal government’s Wellness Together portal. The $3.5-million investment in a new unit at Health Sciences Centre’s emergency department for patients in various stages of intoxication, withdrawal or mental health crisis, announced on Sept. 2 by Health Minister Cameron Friesen, is an encouraging step toward improving the capacity of the current system.
But there needs to be more investment in a variety of long-term supports, such as trauma-informed counselling for frontline workers, as well as improvement in coverage, especially for those who don’t have insurance — or lost coverage when they lost their jobs.
Ultimately, it’s pay now or pay more later in serious social consequences of untreated mental illnesses — including an increase in substance abuse, homelessness and crime, as well as poorer educational and physical health outcomes. Now is the time for Canada to start treating mental illness with the same dililgence it does physical illness.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.