“When will COVID end?” one of my children sometimes asks.
“I don’t know but, don’t worry, we’ll get through it together.”
From anxiety in children, to isolation among seniors, depression and frustration and confusion for everyone in between, this pandemic is pushing the limits of our mental health and our mental health resources.
Early on, it was dramatic and scary, but part of it was almost a novelty in some ways as we changed the way we behaved. No one could find toilet paper, and we banged pots and pans at 7 p.m. to honour frontline health-care professionals. Beyond the shocking economic impacts, some of it seemed more tolerable because of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s calm demeanour as she said daily: “It’s not forever, but it is for now.”
But the “now” of April turned into the “still?” of June, the “what, really?” of August, and an October where the hashtag #2020 needs no explanation.
B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie released a report last month in which she documented stories of “despondent” seniors left isolated in care homes and assisted living facilities, many elderly people who reported the only thing the looked forward to was a visit from family.
“There are also early warning signs of measurable health impacts. After many recent years of stability, the rate of anti-psychotic use for residents in long-term care has increased seven per cent during this pandemic and initial reports from the quarterly assessments show troubling trends of unintended weight loss and worsening of mood among long-term care residents.”
A study out of the University of British Columbia a month prior found that 41 per cent of nurses reported that they suffered from depression, up from 31 per cent reported in 2019 (pre-pandemic). and 38 per cent said they experienced anxiety, compared to 28 per cent last year.
Elsewhere jokes were made about day drinking due to shortened work hours or working from home. But it was, and is, a serious reality, and it isn’t just alcohol. Illicit drug overdose deaths were hitting new highs in the summer, and the numbers aren’t improving.
The mental health of not only children up to late teens but also those in early adulthoood is a serious problem.
“COVID just illustrates the vulnerabilities in society that when any of us are under stress, our coping mechanisms are where we go to,” said Dr. Tahmeena Ali, a Surrey physician. “So whether that’s getting violent, or losing our temper, or overeating, or using drugs. It’s not a surprise, to any of us, that the overdose deaths are up. It’s a sad reality that when we have dysfunctional coping mechanisms, that’s what we fall on in periods of stress.”
On Halloween, there were unprecedented stories of fireworks set off across the Lower Mainland. What does that have to do with this? Well, I asked a group of teens setting off fireworks at playgrounds and down streets as my young son was trick-or-treating to stop. They flew into a rage when I told them fireworks were illegal, and that they were scaring young children. The angry response shocked me, as I’ve not seen that before. Maybe it shouldn’t have. Maybe it was understandable given the pressure these young people are under.
The moves to limit sports and gym attendance may seem like a physical fitness (or just a fun) issue, but physical fitness (and fun, too) is absolutely crucial to mental health.
If mental health was a game of Jenga, despite the best intentions of public health officials, pieces are being pulled out that are critical to the structure and that could cause a collapse.
Clinical anxiety has not hit my household bubble, but nerves can be frayed.
Every day many of us don’t all do the right things – the hard part – yet that is another day we push the problem down the road, making it even harder.
As I wrote in this space in July, as Cultus was swarming with young people, it continues to be a Sophie’s choice every day: Let the kids play with their friends and risk virus transmission or lock ’em up in the house and risk mental health strain.
Everything has to be done to balance these choices, and we have to lean on one another – virtually and metaphorically – as best we can.
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