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July 21 2020

Opinion: We need a compassionate recovery to address the hurt we don’t see

This op-ed was originally published in the Calgary Herald on July 21, 2020. Photo credit to AZIN GHAFFARI / Postmedia

If we scrape our knee, there are Band-Aids. If we break an arm, we are put into a cast to reset the bone. We know what steps to take to flatten the curve and curb the spread of COVID-19 while awaiting a vaccine. But there are no quick fixes for the hurt we cannot see: the mental health impacts of this pandemic.

The Centre for Suicide Prevention suggests that, in most cases, it takes 12 to 18 months after a major financial crash to see an increase in mental illness and suicide. Combined with the possibility of a second wave and the prolonged and bumpy road to economic recovery, we don’t have a good sense of what the unseen impacts of COVID-19 will be.

Recent surveys by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that although Canadians feel slightly less anxious and worried about contracting COVID-19 than at the start of the pandemic, rates of depression and loneliness remain unchanged, affecting almost one in four Canadians, a quarter of the population. Yet, most Canadians continue to say “I’m fine” when asked to express how they are doing.

Unlike physical and economic health, mental health solutions are slightly trickier to identify and implement simply because, as a society, we still do not talk about it enough.

That needs to change. And we need to begin that conversation today.

Poor mental health harms our productivity and limits our ability to problem-solve, both of which will be sorely needed if we are to adapt and navigate through such an uncertain future. Employees under stress spend more than one-third of their time being unproductive, and stressed employees are absent on average one working day per month.

Our economic recovery hinges on recognizing and addressing the serious mental health crisis we are in. We must leverage inclusivity and empathy to guide our recovery efforts.

In short, we need a compassionate recovery plan that prioritizes the mental health of employees. Our organizations are firmly committed and taking action on this front.

Using our depth and years of experience supporting families through conflict and stress, YW Calgary has developed a platform to improve mental health at work called Mindfulicity. This interactive e-learning program, based on brain-science research, helps employees build their skills to manage stress, conflict and ultimately their mental health.

At the Calgary Chamber, we believe that vibrant business leads to vibrant communities. We urge our business community to view mental health as important of an obligation as safety and have created opportunities for virtual conversations on this topic throughout the pandemic.

Since social policy simply cannot be divorced from economic policy, the chamber has also proposed several initiatives for an inclusive economic recovery and resiliency strategy. Our recommendations include ensuring households receive necessary relief and monetary support, the creation of a Canadian economic task force to examine the structural economic vulnerabilities highlighted by the pandemic, and ensuring our public health system can withstand and respond to a similar one in the future.

Similarly, at YW Calgary, our mission is to intervene, empower and lead when and where women need us most. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and we remain even more firmly committed to this mission. Along with the four YWCAs of Alberta, we have recommended a set of economic recovery recommendations that centre the needs of Albertans who are women, gender-diverse, children and families.

Pursuing a compassionate recovery together that considers mental health outcomes will build resiliency and enable us to move forward more connected and engaged than ever, ready to succeed in the future.

Sue Tomney is chief executive officer of YW Calgary.

Sandip Lalli is president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

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