National Post (Latest Edition)
We all have a role to play in promoting mental health.
Nobel prize Winner put ‘life’ ahead of ideology
Canada faced a mental health crisis before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic made it much worse.
“In 25 years of practice, I have never been so busy,” a social worker informed me recently. “business is booming … very sad.”
even early in the pandemic, in April, an Angus reed survey found that 50 per cent of Canadians said their mental health had worsened. Things have not improved. Patients are scrambling to find counselling. Social workers here in Ontario, and other parts of Canada, are working overtime.
In our clinic, parents report an increasing amount of anxiety, especially among school-aged children. Students with anxiety seemed to manage pre-covid. Today, more of them are going into crisis. distress among many students in Toronto, Peel and york region mounted as school reopenings loomed. It is too soon to tell how those students are managing back in the classroom.
Teachers are struggling, too. One teacher reported that some schools have up to 30 per cent of staff on leave. Pivoting to online learning presented its own challenge. The continual uncertainty of changing work expectations and the thought of being exposed to hordes of potentially infected children makes things even worse. With the new requirement that students must stay home if even one member of the family has even one Covid-related symptom, parents have been left questioning how often their children will have to miss class, and how they will be able to earn a living with the kids at home.
A study published in december in the Journal of Affective disorders reviewed the global impact of the pandemic on anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. The authors highlighted a number of risk factors, including the impact on women, those under 40 and those who are exposed to high social media use. The authors concluded that, “The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented threat to mental health.”
Mental health struggles end in suicide for more than 4,000 people in Canada each year, more than 10 each day. So far, data on suicide rates during COVID are mixed. For instance, at the start of the pandemic, Japan reported a 20 per cent decrease in suicides, but by August, the rate had increased by 7.7 per cent. Last fall, our local hospital just north of Toronto had less than half a dozen COVID patients in the intensive care unit, but we were busy caring for an influx of overdose patients.
Mental illness often overlaps with domestic violence. violence and mental illness are two separate things, but COVID seems to make both worse. A domestic stabbing incident left Mount Albert, Ont., a town of 5,500, reeling recently. emergency medical services took three people to hospital with critical injuries, including a two-year-old and a four-year-old. Two adults died at the scene. Only the most horrific incidents make the news; most domestic issues remain hidden.
If you are feeling less hopeful than usual, others around you probably feel the same. Looking to the year ahead, a recent Angus reid survey found that only one in five Canadians believe that 2021 will be “good” or “great.” The COVID vaccine offers hope, especially to those who are eager to get a dose of Florida sunshine to help their seasonal affective disorder. The federal government’s struggles to procure enough vaccine have not helped, and Canadians’ confidence has slipped. even so, no one anticipated a vaccine would be available this soon.
If nothing else, COVID-19 has shown the need for kinship, community and social connection. even the most introverted people need someone to help them when they get sick. COVID severed all the informal community supports that kept many frail patients safe in the community. It will take time to realize the full impact of this.
If you find yourself thinking life is just too much work, or you just want a break from it all, reach out. Call a friend right now, or the Canadian suicide prevention hotline (1-833-456-4566).
Take a moment to think about the people who were on the fringes of your social circle before COVID. Were you the only support that person might have had? For many seniors, their only connection to the outside world was their neighbour who they may have seen walking to work. Figure out a safe way to reach out to these people.
Solving access to treatment for mental health requires a massive effort. The next few months may feel more like extreme crisis management. but if we all pay attention to our own health and the health of those around us, we can get through this. This is the first step to fixing the mental health crisis that existed long before COVID began.
Covid-19 has shown the need for kinship, Community and social Connection.
Dr. Shawn Whatley is the author of the new book, “When Politics Comes Before Patients: Why and How Canadian Medicare is Failing.” He is a Munk senior fellow in health policy with the Macdonald-laurier Institute and a past president of the Ontario Medical Association.
We physicians Who shepherd human life from birth to death have a moral imperative to resist With all our being the drift toward the brink … posterity has no lobby With politicians.
— Bernard Lown
bernard Lown, an eminent cardiologist who forged a dual legacy in medicine and world affairs, pioneering life-saving treatments for heart attacks and co-founding an international group of physicians that won a nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to end the nuclear arms race, died Feb. 16 at his home in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He was 99.
He had congestive heart failure, said a granddaughter, Ariel Lown Lewiton, adding that her grandfather oversaw his own medical treatment.
A Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, Lown moved to the united states before the outbreak of the second world war and taught himself english by memorizing the pages of a dictionary.
He ascended the ranks of medicine and academia to become a professor of cardiology at the Harvard school of Public Health, a senior physician at brigham and women’s Hospital in boston, and founder of a cardiovascular clinic in Chestnut Hill that bears his name.
He was credited with helping lead major advances in care for cardiac patients. Among them, in the early 1960s, was the development of a defibrillator that used direct current to re-establish a normal heartbeat when an arrhythmia occurs.
the device — the paddles often wielded in television medical dramas — quickly entered widespread use and led to more advanced implantable cardioverter-defibrillators placed inside the chest.
In addition, Lown helped demonstrate the utility of the drug lidocaine for cardiac patients and showed that nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, could be used to relieve pain caused by heart attacks and improve outcomes by lessening a patient’s anxiety and therefore his or her heart rate and blood pressure.
Lown had observed the promise of laughing gas at a hospital in Moscow during a u.s.-american health exchange in 1968.
“when I walked into the hospital’s coronary care unit, I couldn’t get over the fact that there were little tanks of nitrous oxide gas near every patient’s bed,” Lown told the new york times.
the exchange was neither the beginning nor the end of Lown’s long commitment to international cooperation among physicians during the Cold war. Profoundly disturbed by the threat of nuclear war, he saw an opportunity — and responsibility — for doctors on both sides of the Iron Curtain to oppose nuclear armament.
“Look, here’s the problem,” Lown recalled writing to yevgeniy Chazov, a soviet cardiologist he knew, in the late 1970s. “you and I have been concerned with the issue of sudden death. sudden cardiac death is not what’s threatening us, but sudden nuclear death. you and I have got to get together.”
In 1980, Lown and Chazov — along with Jim Muller, eric Chivian and Herbert Abrams of the united states and Mikhail Kuzin and Leonid Ilyin of the soviet union — founded the International Physicians for the Prevention of nuclear war (IPPNW).
the doctors quickly attracted attention. they implored the united states and the soviet union to cease nuclear testing and to reject the first use of nuclear weapons in the broader goal of ending the arms race.
by 1985, the group counted 135,000 members in 40 countries, among them 28,000 in the united states and 60,000 in the soviet union. that year, the group won the nobel Peace Prize for having “performed a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of atomic warfare.”
Lown and Chazov travelled to norway to collect the honour.
“we are both cardiologists and usually speak about the heart,” Lown said in his nobel speech. “today, we speak from the heart.”
Chazov’s involvement sparked a minor furor: He was a member of his country’s Communist
Party Central Committee, had served as personal physician to high-ranking soviet leaders, and had publicly criticized Andrei sakharov, the soviet physicist and dissident who won the nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
some American observers regarded the physicians’ group as politically and geopolitically naive, unwittingly offering the soviets a moral victory.
but Lown and his colleagues were insistent.
“we physicians who shepherd human life from birth to death have a moral imperative to resist with all our being the drift toward the brink,” he said in the nobel speech.
“the threatened inhabitants on this fragile planet must speak out for those generations yet unborn, for posterity has no lobby with politicians.”
Lown was born boruch Latz on June 7, 1921, in utena, Lithuania, where a grandfather was a rabbi. the eldest of four children, he grew up in a middle-class family that operated a mill, among other business interests that they relinquished in 1935 when they fled to the united states amid encroaching anti-semitism.
the family ultimately joined an uncle of Lown’s who had come to the united states at the turn of the century. His daughter, Louise Lown, would become Lown’s wife.
bernard Lown — as he became known in his new American home — spent his adolescence in Maine, where his father and uncle worked in the shoe manufacturing trade. He received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the university of Maine in 1942 and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins university in 1945.
Lown was briefly kicked out of medical school when, in an early display of his commitment to social justice, he intentionally mislabelled blood-bank samples from black and white donors. His purpose was to demonstrate the absurdity of the blood bank’s segregationist policies.
Lown became interested in the dangers of nuclear armament in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In an interview with the Miami Herald, he recalled telling himself, “Lown, you have copped out for far too long.”
He helped establish the organization Physicians for social responsibility and spurred medical research on the effects of nuclear weapons in an effort that culminated in the founding of the IPPNW.
In addition to that organization, Lown helped found satellife, a non-profit organization that seeks to use technology and communications to improve health care in poor countries.
In his medical practice, Lown advocated a holistic, humanistic approach that he described in a book, the Lost Art of Healing (1996). He was also the author of a memoir, Prescription for survival: A doctor’s Journey to end nuclear Madness (2008).
Lown’s wife died in 2019. survivors include three children, Fredric Lown of brookline, Mass., Anne Lown of Manhattan and naomi Lown of Arlington, Mass.; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Lown laboured for years over purposeful, sustained collaboration between the Cold war superpowers.
but the day before the nobel ceremony in 1985, he found himself thrust by coincidence into what a washington Post correspondent described as an “impromptu display of east-west cooperation.”
He and Chazov were speaking at a news conference in oslo when a soviet television journalist collapsed from cardiac arrest. the two doctors tore off their coats and rushed to his side, performing chest compressions. when an ambulance arrived, the crew used a defibrillator to shock the patient’s heart, and then delivered an injection of lidocaine.
“suddenly I looked up to the heavens and said, ‘somebody up there is intervening to make a point, a parable,’” Lown told the syracuse Post-standard in 1988. It was a parable about “what is relevant is life — not worrying about ideology, about politics, about whether he is a commie or a capitalist.”