Post pandemic living
STORY BY MYRNA STARK LEADER
Like a genie, the long-kept, closely guarded secret, “everyone isn’t fine,” is out of the bottle. The stigma surrounding mental health prevention, awareness, diagnosis and treatment will be buried for good.
“The pandemic has illuminated gaps in services and shown that every person has to look after their mental health,” says Shelagh Turner, executive director of Kelowna’s branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association [left]. She’s never seen the topic gain so much attention in 30 years in the profession.
Decades of stereotyping aren’t coming back. It’s finally OK, even encouraged, for people to say, “I haven’t been myself. I need help because I’m overwhelmed (stressed, anxious, losing it, depressed, wanting to end the anguish) or any of many other very real feelings.”
Government officials, celebrities, businesses, people of all backgrounds and ages will continue normalizing open conversations around mental challenges because we all understand prevention or early diagnosis are life-saving, cost-saving, and a sign of strength.
Government and healthcare spending dollars focused on our mental state will increase. The public demand and need will make it impossible not to.
For example, over one-quarter of users of pandemic-launched Wellness Together Canada — the online portal offering Canadians free support for mental health and substance — say they wouldn’t have accessed care for mental health or substance use concerns without it. Discontinuation of the pandemic-launched tool won’t fly.
Users of youth services, such as drop-in counselling or Foundry B.C.’s online chat, voice or video calls, and online peer support groups and workshops, will be celebrated.
For Shelagh, the pandemic has brightened the path for many seeking help. “Paying attention to and caring for our mental health are within our grasp, something we can be ahead of, preventatively protecting it,” she says.
Dr. Lesley Lutes, a psychology professor at the UBC Okanagan campus, also sees signs of big change.
B.C. Premier John Horgan recently told media he’s open to the B.C. Psychological Association’s proposal of embedding psychologists within the primary care system and covering the bills from the health system, rather than out of patients’ wallets.
Lesley agrees, citing four decades of data that shows integrating mental health into the healthcare system saves lives. Patient health and well-being improve, physician burnout lessens, and healthcare costs decrease over time.
“I’m very hopeful. I truly believe when in the face of the biggest challenges in life, that also gives us the greatest opportunity for real change.”