For the second time, Mayor Cam Guthrie marked World Mental Health Day with a Zoom event, and fittingly, the pandemic was the topic of conversation in this 22nd annual Mayor’s Talk on Mental Health. You might have been concerned that it was going to be kind of a bummer for those in attendance, but the talk was surprisingly hopeful because even though we’re all exhausted at this point in the pandemic, it should be noted that so is the virus.
“There’s not much fuel left for you and I, we’re running out of energy, but there’s not much fuel left for the virus either and that’s huge,” said Bracelet of Hope founder Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik. “As COVID-19 runs out of fuel, we are left in a place that is much healthier and a future that is much better. The days of COVID-19 causing this dark pandemic are numbered.”
A bold statement, but like a good doctor Zajdlik made strong evidence-based arguments including the fact that the worse case scenario modelling for the fourth wave has not come to pass, and the high vaccination rates among Ontarians in general, and Guelphites specifically.
“What’s probably going to happen in the spring is that COVID-19 will become endemic, it will no longer be pandemic,” Zajdlik explained. “Endemic is when the disease becomes manageable, it does not cause an undue burden on hospitals or other healthcare resources and it only causes serious illness in very, very few people. […] We are closer to this new state of reality than you think we are.”
In terms of other new realities, Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington CEO Helen Fishburn said that the pandemic has been the “great equalizer” for people who might, for the first time, understand the mindset of people suffering from a mental health crisis.
“The pandemic has been the great equalizer for us, it’s really created that compassion and empathy, because now people really understand what it feels like to be anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, and deeply fearful,” Fishburn said. “That is really opening up the conversation around mental health, which is one we have all stepped into, and it’s a conversation that we need to keep going.”
The conversation also has to include a recognition for all the positive things in our lives, a an appropriate message on this pre-Thanksgiving week.
“Hope and gratitude are so closely linked; we need to see the good that still exists despite the pain around it,” Fishburn added, saying that we need to take a moment to reflect on the things we’re grateful for. “People often ask me when’s the right time to reach out for help, and I will tell you that if some of the things that you’re doing normally aren’t working for you – if you’re not sleeping well, or if you’re having really strong intense feelings and it’s affecting your ability to function at work – those are the times that it’s really important to reach out, and of course we always want you to reach out.”
Some people may want to reach about issues around someone in their life who is vaccine hesitant or has found themselves falling down a rabbit hole of misinformation. Both Fishburn and Zajdlik said it’s unfortunate, but not surprising given the life and death stakes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’re always going to get a range of opinions and feelings and thoughts, especially when the stakes are so high, but I will say that I think misinformation has really contributed to that divide,” Fisburn said. “Sadly, it’s caused a lot of really unnecessary angst. Navigating the pandemic has been so hard, but when you add misinformation, it just creates so much more intensity and pain and hurt.”
“I think misinformation has exposed divisions that we didn’t know existed in our community, and those divisions are making our community face some very difficult things at all levels,” added Zajdlik. “I know that misinformation has led a lot of people to not get vaccinated and therefore succumb to the serious nature of COVID-19. We need to look at our social media platforms and put policies in place to prevent misinformation from ever causing this level of despair again.”
Speaking generally about the need for more mental health assistance from upper levels of government, the mayor’s guested noted that while the pandemic has created more need for mental health resources, it’s on top of the great need that already existed in Guelph and other communities across Canada.
“Mental health was underwater before the pandemic started in terms of thousands of people needing care and not being able to get it; since the pandemic, it’s been a tsunami,” said Fishburn. “We’re going to have to really think about what our key priorities are, and we’re going to have to ask the government for that funding. There are too many needs across healthcare, but that’s not to say we won’t keep up the pressure, we absolutely will.”
Zajdlik added that it helps to make mental health part of the conversations we have with friends and family every day, to keep the door open so that no one feels like they’re all alone.
“We ask people all the time about their lives: How are things at work? How are you? How are the kids doing?” Zajdlik explained. “The only people who can change this conversation in our community is us, each of us making it part of our everyday lives and everyday conversation. It’s so simple, and it will have such a profound impact because this is just normal life.”