COLUMN: A word of thanks to the other frontline workers

Mental health professionals helping deal with emotional fallout of a global pandemic

With last week’s announcement of a slow and deliberate move toward more relaxed restrictions in B.C., is the end of our collective COVID-19 lockdown finally in sight?

Probably not, but at least we know that it’s somewhere over the horizon and that knowledge, in itself, is enough lift a few spirits.

And not a moment too soon.

What started out as not exactly an exciting chapter of human history, but certainly one that has given us all something to talk about for hours over the phone, is wearing thin.

It’s been more than two months since the detection of the coronavirus in B.C. spurred us all into inaction.

We set out to tackle it with grit, determination and a Netflix subscription. We’ve done what was asked of us for the greater good, repeatedly thanked the people on the front lines for allowing us to safely do our part (nothing) and reminded ourselves and others that we’re all in this together.

Dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic hasn’t been easy for people in the best of circumstances, but for those currently without employment, or whose age or health make them particularly vulnerable or even for people who live alone, the isolation and inactivity can have a profound negative effect on the psyche.

Humanity has been through this before – just not the specific humans who are going through it now. Or very few of them at least, since it’s been 100 years since the last major pandemic spread around the globe.

We’re asked daily to be calm and be kind and my experience, for the most part, is that people are going out of their way to treat others with respect even as we cut one another a wide swath on the sidewalk or in the narrow aisles of the grocery store.

READ ALSO: B.C.’s mental health minister reminds Surrey there’s ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

This lack of interaction is, in and of itself, a part of the problem.

We are social beings and for people who live alone and are either working from home or not currently employed, the isolation can weigh heavily. For people who already suffer from depression or anxiety, I’d imagine the effects are multiplied many times over.

For others, being confined with a specific group of people simply because you happen to be related might not be much better.

Add financial insecurity to the equation and, in some homes, it takes only a small spark to light a fuse on a virtual powder keg. We’re told that incidents of domestic violence and physical and sexual abuse, against adults and children alike, are on the rise behind closed doors. That’s devastating to think about in the abstract – so imagine experiencing it first-hand.

And then there are the overt and very public outbursts, including a recent incident in which a man walked up to a woman and punched her in the face in an unprovoked attack – just the latest of several targeted at Asians in the Lower Mainland over the past few months.

The mental health of the perpetrators is, of course, in question. Clearly, they need help.

In fact, lot of people need help right now and, luckily, in many – though by no means all – cases, they’re quietly getting it.

READ ALSO: B.C. unveils $5M for mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s been pointed out that while we regularly thank the frontline health care workers – doctors and nurses and other medical technicians – we’ve been somewhat less vocal in our support of mental health professionals.

These are the people who have been busy behind the scenes, connecting over the phone or by video chat, doing the invaluable work of helping those who are willing and able to reach out.

As insidious as this virus is in the toll it’s taking on patients’ physical health, this is measurable data. We can see it, count it and in some ways, make sense of it.

But the immediate and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental and emotional health of a far greater number of people will be much harder to quantify. These figures can’t be neatly wrapped up in a daily briefing.

It’s going to take an unknown toll on an unknown number of people for an unknown length of the time.

Long after the physical danger of COVID-19 has passed and the clanging pans and musical salutes have faded, mental health care workers will still be hard at work on the front lines. They deserve our thanks, too. And they have it.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.



brenda.anderson@peacearchnews.com

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