Thursday, April 01, 2021

Our leaders are not ignoring mental health, they are prioritizing

Throughout this pandemic, I have heard and read so many news articles about mental health. Most of them take the stance that governments, health authorities and all the powers that be are all but ignoring mental health considerations in their haste to close down the economy and guard against increasing community spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

It is almost always framed as an us-vs-them diatribe. Even if they often throw in a "we need to look at both aspects" sop, the rest of the interview usually makes it pretty clear that they don't really mean that, and that, for them, the mental health aspect is all they really care about.

What these mental health advocates don't do is to offer practical suggestions as to how things could be handled differently. It's all very well to bluster about how inhuman and inhumane it is to deny institutionalized seniors visits from family members, but what would the alternative be? The Canadian long-term care system has not had a stellar record on protecting the elderly in homes (and does not seem to have learned many lessons from one COVID wave to the next), but who knows how bad it might have been if free traffic in and out of infected institutions had been allowed.

The corollary of prioritizing mental health more is the relaxation of precautions against the spread of the virus, whether it be social distancing, mask-wearing, reduced indoor gatherings, travel restrictions, or any number of other entirely necessary precautions. Is this what the mental health advocates are suggesting? Because I'm pretty sure that various levels of government and the vast majority of health professionals and public health officials have all thought about this, and are well aware that there are mental health repercussions to their decisions. But, stuck betwen a rock and a hard place, they have had to choose the rock (or possibly the hard place, whichever one results in the fewest deaths and the earliest end to the pandemic). They are not lacking in empathy, information or education, they have simply been put in an impossible position.

A similar situation exists with economists and business people, who are outraged at what they see as the government's indifference and callousness, and are insisting that we need to open up the economy NOW. There are many different stakeholders in all this, often with conflicting goals and requirements, and not everyone can be accommodated in an emergency situation of this kind. 

If anything, many governments, including here in Ontario, may have leaned too far towards accommodation and the rest of us are paying the price for that, most notably with a much lengthened pandemic period, record ICU statistics, and a third wave that promises to be the worst of all, with no real end in sight. Doug Ford (and others) have relaxed restrictions and re-defined lockdown rules repeatedly, directly against the advice of public health authorities and experts, all while insisting that they are "following the science" and that they "will not hesitate" to clamp down when necessary.

So, can we please have less of the disingenuous tub-thumping and single-issue perspectives. Everyone knows that mental health is suffering but, in the absence of a perfect plan and infinite funds, we are peddling as fast as we can in the best direction we know. Our leaders are never going to be able to please all the people all the time. All they can do is to try and save as many lives as possible with as little disruption as possible.

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