OPINION: Mental health really does matter

In August, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) will be ending their mass vaccination clinics. This is being done as we reach higher and higher numbers of fully vaccinated residents in the region. Six months ago, we could hardly think that we would be here, but while numbers of active cases are going down, and the vaccination rate is going up, I still worry that the public health effects of this pandemic will not be leaving us that soon.
This pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of residents in this region, as we have previously documented in our coverage in Seaway News.
In March I spoke with executives of local crisis agencies, such as Sexual Assault Support Services for Women, Maison Baldwin House, and the Children’s Aid Society and they all told me the same thing. They believe that mental health is deteriorating in the region, that they have seen increased demands on their services, and that they are worried it will get worse.
I’m worried that it is getting worse. Our website publishes local death notices and I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last few months since I started looking at this issue more closely. Each death notice comes with a picture, and as I have been checking through these notices regularly, I’ve started noticing a pattern, and it began with the pictures.
Usually, I’ll see a death notice with a picture of a man, a young man, sometimes a little older, but always far too young to be appearing in the death notices section. They usually begin the same. “. . . passed away suddenly . . .” And they often end the same “. . . Memorial Donations to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health would be appreciated by the family.”
I never want to assume, but the above pattern paints a stark picture. By my counting over the past two months alone, there have been at least four such death notices, all of men between the ages of 20 and 50. One death to suicide is one too many.
For a variety of reasons, the pandemic has put a strain on mental health. Everyone is different, everyone is going through their own problems, but we’ve all been going through this pandemic and it has created an extra amount of pressure that have pushed some past the point of tolerance. Whether it is the stress of loss of work due to a lockdown, not being able to see a loved one who is in the hospital or long-term care, or simply being stuck at home, this pandemic has presented as many challenges to mental health as it has to our physical health.
Our mental health should be treated the same way as our physical health, and I hope that the EOHU tackles this issue with the same vigor and efficiency that they did with the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations.
Furthermore, I want our MPP Jim McDonell and our MP Eric Duncan to use their positions to advocate for changes in our healthcare system. There are far too few mental health resources out there and therapy can be expensive making it inaccessible to some, and in often cases inaccessible to those who need it the most.
Those who are struggling with their mental health should receive the same supports in our healthcare system as those who suffer from physical ailments because the threats to well-being and life are often just as dire.
Until the government steps up and prioritizes the entirety of public health, not just the physical, there are things that we can do as individuals to help one another. First is to fight the stigma around mental health. Would you shame someone who has cancer? No. Then we should not feel ashamed of our mental health either.
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