The Morning Brief – 05.27.21

By Bruce Carson


If there is one thing that Canadians can absolutely count on, it’s that as the present COVID-19 pandemic winds down, and hopefully it will sooner than later, it will be followed closely by the next pandemic; Canadians dealing with mental health issues.

Resources will be stretched to the maximum as this next pandemic will affect adults trying to make their way back into the workforce and young people who have suffered mental distress, caused to a certain extent by being unable to participate in regular classes and activities from kindergarten through to university.

Hopefully, particularly with regard to in class learning, our political leaders will see their way clear to once again allow students to experience in-classroom learning.

While it looks like this is the direction in which leadership is moving now, one never knows until the kids are back in the classroom.

This is the fifth Morning Brief since Easter, 2020 that is devoted to mental health matters. From earlier Briefs somethings have not materially changed, but others have become worse as the pandemic in its unique fashion moves from province to province, territory to territory, mostly with increasing ferocity increasing the numbers of those infected and hospitalized.

During the last few months and particularly with the third wave and its variants, COVID-19 has marched steadily across the length and breadth of this country.

The defence that we have established comes through vaccinations, but Canada has been increasingly slow in ensuring second doses get into arms. Again, hopefully this will improve in the next few weeks.

There is no actual pandemic end date that Canadians can look forward to or hang on to, except the mantra from the federal government focussing on a “one dose summer” and a “two dose fall.” Even this will depend on vaccine deliveries and will Canadians continue to be willing to line up for the vaccines?

There is great uncertainty and from where we sit, in the last full week in May, we don’t know when “normal” will arrive; will it be in the next few months or will it be sometime next year.

All of this led Bianca Bharti of the National Post to write on May 17, “Canada’s transition to a knowledge economy could suffer if business doesn’t take mental health seriously.” She states that the economic impact of poor employee mental health can be pegged at $50 billion per year.

However, the positive is that the return on newly implemented mental health strategies is $1.62 for every dollar invested.

She points out that this has been a year of lockdowns causing extreme mental and physical exhaustion. “To be competitive, we have to have a workforce that is productive and engaged.” According to Sun Life that workforce needs to be mentally healthy.

The workplace must be free from harassment, bullying and disrespectful behavior; focus should be on consultation and teamwork.

Bharti writes “the workplace in a knowledge based economy is about your mind.”

So there are mental health issues that need to be addressed in the workplace, particularly the workplace of the future, but really all workplaces will be affected. But in addition there are young people who will have their own mental health issues arising from their experiences with COVID-19.

These issues fall into two groups; issues emanating from school or lack thereof and those that arise more generally among young people.

On May 20, in a letter to Premier Ford leading paediatric organizations across Canada came together to call on the Ontario government to immediately reopen schools across the province; “schools to re-open immediately—every day counts.” There was also a call to have summer school be in-person and schools open as scheduled in the fall.

The letter writers set out “the impact of school closures and the resulting social isolation on the health and well-being of children and youth has become impossible to ignore, in a crisis in children’s mental health.”

They argue that school plays an essential role in the recovery process and reopening schools will not have a negative impact on the health care system. In person school provides students with routine, structure, accountability, socialization and there can be recognition of abuse and neglect. “The benefit of a few weeks school in the classroom cannot be overstated.”

While the letter is addressed to Premier Ford, hopefully it has been picked up and read by leaders across the country. What would benefit children and youth in Ontario, will be of benefit across the country.

Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, an ICU doctor at the Ottawa Hospital adds “kids need to be back at school; school is essential.”

Dealing generally with mental health issues and youth, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario has turned to adult hospitals as mental health cases surge. The hospital is seeking options for older teens. Joanne Lowe, VP mental health and addictions at CHEO was quoted in an article by CBC’s Judy Trinh as saying “I’ve never seen a demand like this…This is the next pandemic, and needs aren’t going to end when this pandemic ends.”

CHEO stats show 50% of emergency patients over the last four months seeking treatment for some form of mental health issue. These issues include depression, anxiety, drug overdoses and suicidal thoughts as well as a surge in eating disorders.

Children First Canada, based in Calgary, a signatory to the letter to Premier Ford has declared “the kids are not all right.” 70% of Canadian kids, 6-18 report that the pandemic has harmed their mental well-being. This is the second pandemic.

Having acknowledged that the mental health pandemic is coming for working Canadians, those entering the workforce as well as young people, it will be up to all governments, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal to move quickly to put in place support mechanisms or reinforce those that are already in place.

The problem they will face is that caregivers at all levels are exhausted from dealing with COVID-19 for at least a year and a half  and will now be faced, perhaps long term, with treating mental health issues; the system could simply collapse.

Arguably preparation for COVID-19 was inadequate but it can’t be when this second pandemic hits. This is the new challenge facing Canada’s healthcare system and it must be ready for both the adults and children who will be relying on it.

To Come

  • The Parliamentary Budget Officer presents two costing reports
June 1
  • GDP numbers for March and Q1 to be released
June 4
  • Job numbers for May to be released
June 9
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates
June 11-13
  • G7 leaders meet in Cornwall, UK

The Morning Brief will return on Wednesday, June 2.

– BC