In My Opinion: Prioritizing community’s mental health a key step in dealing with long-term impacts of COVID-19

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford writes about the impact COVID-19 is having on mental health and ways the community can help in his In My Opinion column. One of those ways is to support the CRUSH COVID: Ride for Mind event for Michael Garron Hospital on March 12 and 13.

By BRAD BRADFORD

COUNCILLOR, WARD 19 BEACHES-EAST YORK

It’s been almost a year since Toronto went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The last 12 months have brought unimaginable challenges. Nearly 22,000 Canadians have died as a result of this virus. Millions of Canadians lost their jobs. We’ve gone months without seeing our loved ones. The effects of these impacts will go far beyond our economy and deep into our psyches.

We need to prioritize the mental health of our community to minimize long-term damage and prevent an echo pandemic from deepening the scars of COVID-19.

A recent study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that nearly 25 per cent of Canadians are experiencing anxiety. Self-medication through alcohol has risen significantly, with 25 per cent of respondents reporting binge drinking that week.

From top to bottom we need more investments into basic mental wellness treatments like counselling, addiction treatment, and peer support services.

These programs aren’t well covered under Canada’s health system and frequently lead to people never seeking essential help. The needs of 1.6 million Canadians go unmet each year as a result.

This is exacerbated by the pandemic taking away many critical supports that people rely on. It’s tough not seeing friends or family to share with and being unable to have those meaningful conversations or those all-important hugs.

There have been pandemic successes worth celebrating. Governments announced more funding and expanded programs by bringing them online during the pandemic. They developed partnerships with community-facing organizations to get people the help they need.

We must keep up this momentum. It isn’t only a moral imperative – it’s an economic one, as well.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates the economic burden of mental health to be $51 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity. That’s before considering the 500,000 employed Canadians who are unable to work each week because of mental health troubles.

In Toronto we’ve introduced a number of programs to help folks get out of their house safely and enjoy some semblance of normalcy.

Programs like CafeTO and ActiveTO were a huge success helping people see friends for a drink on patios or opening up major streets to give Torontonians extra space to get active.

The Welcome TO Winter plan kept that going through the colder months with increased maintenance for parks and keeping more amenities open to the public.

More directly, the City is testing out a program to improve our response to mental health crisis calls. We need trained health-care providers and support workers responding to these calls to achieve the best outcomes.

These distress calls have increased by 32 per cent over the last five years, highlighting the need to bolster our existing social service providers and move beyond a solely police response.

We’re blessed with fantastic local leadership on this file from Michael Garron Hospital (MGH). Many aren’t aware that MGH provides life-changing, best-in-class mental health care and is growing its impact with its redevelopment.

We all play a role at the individual level to break the stigma around mental health. It can be as simple as asking someone how they’re really doing, or as hard as opening up ourselves.

One way you can get involved locally is by supporting the CRUSH COVID: Ride for Mind fundraiser to support MGH.

On March 12-13, the one year anniversary of Toronto going into lockdown, I’ll be cycling virtually with cyclists from around the world for 24 hours to support CRUSH COVID for my second year. You can find more information on how the funds will help at crushcovid.ca.

We’d love for you to join us on our livestream, starting March 12 at 6pm. You can register and join a team here, or participate solo!

Any support, whether it’s a donation or telling a friend, is deeply appreciated.

No matter what role you want to play, remember that struggling with our mental health does not make us weak or less than anyone else. It makes us human.


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