The Walleye Magazine
Weighing the Mental Health Cost During COVID
As the mental health promotion planner for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, I work at the intersection of public health and mental health and, as you can imagine, the pandemic has added a whole new layer of difficulty to this position. Daily, I get calls or comments questioning public health measures that some would argue have more negative impacts than benefits due to their unintended consequences on mental health.
Let me begin by offering some validation: we hear you. Almost everything I would have previously suggested as facilitators to good mental health are, at least to some degree, currently off-limits and there is no doubt this is having an impact. On the other hand, we also know that increased rates of infection can cause concerns for mental health for many reasons. This presents us all with a bit of a dilemma as it’s hard to know which would cause more negative impacts on mental health at this time. When we balance our options, there seems to always be a negative consequence that we have to contend with, and this can become very frustrating for everyone involved.
There is no perfect answer here, and I think it has to come down to having controllable versus uncontrollable outcomes. Without restrictions, we would have more freedom to do what we want, but we also know the rate of infection would become even more uncontrollable, as would the negative fall-outs associated with that—loss, grief, fear, and so much more. By imposing restrictions, we are able to have more control over the physical health effects of COVID-19, while at the same time, encouraging people to do things that maintain their mental health, like taking time to connect online or outside, accessing mental health support, or engaging in hobbies and activities.
It is still important to mention, however, that there will always be some uncontrollable factors that will impact mental health. Some people who are disproportionately affected by the restrictions may not have access to some of those supports. We know that people with financial concerns, those with pre-existing mental illness, and folks with other barriers may be struggling even more right now. It is all extremely complicated, and unfortunately we’ve learned that, within this pandemic reality, there just isn’t a perfect solution.
That doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. We need to keep doing all we can to support the most people with broad measures, and increase our efforts to help those who have fallen through the cracks. I hope this opens the door to have conversations about our mental health during the pandemic and to continue to advocate as we go.