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Lifting of pandemic restrictions in Alberta not the be-all, cure-all for mental health issues

Posted on 2 June 2021 by Ryan Dahlman

It was appropriate that as Mental Health Awareness Month wrapped up on May 31, that focus, resolve and feelings towards the pandemic was tested to the max. 

On the surface, the previous status quo appears to be coming back. There are indications which demonstrate the rules regarding COVID-life is nearing an end. Whether it is due to the fact that people are becoming vaccinated, there’s just simple COVID-19 fatigue or there’s a push from government to end this somehow, what was considered normal pre-2020 is making its way back to society. 

Alberta’s leader, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney led a news conference last week which outlined a plan where within one month, it would be progressing back to pre-COVID times

“In just a few weeks, Alberta will finally get #BackToNormal. That means backyard barbecues, weddings, concerts, festivals and the Calgary Stampede will be back on. Please get vaccinated to make this happen. This is going to be the best summer ever.”

While this may seem like optimism, there is a real strain and pressure this puts on people. Hopefully it will alleviate the strain on business owners and the on-off; on-off frustrating merry-go-round they have been on maybe at an end. 

While the ‘enough-is-enough’ government approach is good for some on a mental health level, i.e. those who believed the pandemic was overhyped, contrived, some sort of conspiracy; are muttering some version of “finally”. The anger and resentment will linger. 

However, those who have suffered from loneliness and isolation and genuine fear of COVID-19, the news isn’t as rosy. There is still panic and concern that COVID-19 is out there and with conflicting messages of what medical experts are generally saying i.e. they wouldn’t have opened up the Calgary Stampede for this year; and what the government will allow, is troubling. 

Imaging being isolated and/or extra careful for so long. One builds up coping mechanisms and gets into a routine. With everything being as linear as an intense game of racquet ball, it has been hard for anyone to enjoy any sort of consistency and solid ground. 

While there has to be a return to a time where people can enjoy the amenities of life and that businesses and the economy can grow and thrive so there isn’t unemployment etc. society in general has to be patient. There are a lot more anecdotal cases of road rage (May 27 situation in Calgary which received national attention) , anti-mask rage which is a common occurrence and the growing number of protests and rallies. Everyone is feeling stress and mental health is suffering. 

During this time, with people recovering, we need to ensure that there’s patience, understanding and compassion with people are struggling. As everyone is excited for this to be over, there are many who need to readjust and are genuinely scared this isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.  

The fear is that those people will be driven even further into hiding or will not say anything. It will be an added stressor for people who already suffer in silence. 

Why don’t they say something then? It is like an anonymous person on social media expressed: “People that speak up about their mental health aren’t seeking attention. People die in silence everyday because of that judgement.  And that’s when we finally say, “oh man, I wish would have said something.” We live in a society which mourns suicide, but stigmatizes mental health.'”

There is concern of yet another wave of people inflicted with COVID and while the vaccines help, we need to ease into this if not for physical health sake, then certainly for those with mental health challenges.

Ryan Dahlman is the editor of Prairie Post West and Prairie Post East

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