/That other pandemic

That other pandemic

By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock

There’s another pandemic infecting Canadians, and millions of others around the world. It’s a pandemic-within-the-pandemic and medical experts say it will continue long after COVID-19 is brought under control.

Mental disturbances are increasing at an alarming rate. They are disrupting our daily lives with more violent crime, more domestic disputes, more divorces, and increasing rates of emergency medical calls.

Fatal opioid overdoses here in Ontario have increased 60 per cent since the COVID pandemic began. U.S. drug-related deaths are up roughly 30 per cent, hitting 100,000 between April 2020 and April 2021.

A poll conducted for the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences showed 69 per cent of Canadians believe our country is suffering a mental health pandemic. Twenty-eight per cent believe their own mental health has deteriorated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that fear, lost income, isolation and bereavement resulting from COVID are triggering mental health conditions, and exacerbating existing ones. These are causing people to lose sleep, have increased anxiety and increase alcohol and drug use.

That is supported by a study in Lancet, a respected medical journal, estimating that cases of depression rose by 53 million globally in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Cases of anxiety rose by 76 million.

Women seem to be more affected than men. Of the additional 53 million cases of depression and 76 million cases of anxiety, two-thirds were in women.

A British survey found women were spending roughly 50 per cent more time on housework and nearly twice as much time on child care as men. Millions of girls and young women in poorer countries have dropped out of school during the COVID pandemic.

A growing anxiety is developing over fears that pre-COVID “normal” never will return. One survey shows that 81 per cent, or four of five Canadians, think that the COVID pandemic has changed life forever.

With all this straining us mentally, we now have yet another COVID variant that might make life even more worrisome. The variant was discovered in South Africa and not much is known about it yet, except it has been named Omicron, is thought to be highly transmissible and has caused alarms on the stock markets, plus travel restrictions.

Travel restrictions usually are a barn door closed too late and that is the case here. Two Ontario cases were discovered on the weekend and more possible cases are being investigated. 

We can expect COVID to be around much longer, producing new strains that frighten us. We can gain some control with masks, distancing and other restrictions, but this pandemic will not subside until more of the world gets vaccinated.

Half the countries in Africa, source of the latest threatening variant, have less than two per cent of their populations vaccinated. One concern is growing vaccine hesitancy, especially among young African adults.

Many poorer countries have not secured needed quantities of vaccine because vaccine manufacturers give priority to the wealthy countries who stepped up first with big bucks.

We who have so much of everything must work harder at getting the vaccine to those who have so little of anything.

As for that second pandemic – let’s all get a grip on ourselves and hold onto what remains of our civility. I mean screaming at and threatening medical personnel, protesting in the streets, harassment of researchers?

If COVID-19 is causing you to scream, try screaming into a pillow instead of someone’s face. Generations before us went through times as difficult as these without completely losing their heads.

The biggest threat from the mental health pandemic is what it can do to our futures. A breakdown of mental health requires huge amounts of attention, plus huge amounts of money, to set straight.

“We believe this is just the beginning and even greater pressure to support the mental health of the communities we serve is right around the corner,” Karim Mamdani, president and CEO of Ontario Shores, said recently.

He added: “This should serve as a warning for policy and decision-makers that the demands for mental health services will continue to increase at an alarming rate as we continue living through the COVID-19 pandemic and long after it is over.”