The Morning Brief – 04.28.20

By Bruce Carson


Polling Reveals Concerns about Mental Health

Isolation and Financial Issues come to the Forefront with COVID-19

Also Isolation and Family Violence needs to be Addressed

The intent this week was to use The Morning Brief to address the issues surrounding economic recovery. It seemed an appropriate time as the prime minister and premiers were discussing when to open up provinces, when to relax the rules that have been governing our lives since mid-March.

The intent was to move beyond what First Ministers have been attempting to address and deal with what that economy may look like when we get to the other side of COVID-19, how will it have changed and what parts may remain.

However, two polls released yesterday, one national, one specific to Alberta and an interview with Maryam Monsef, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development brought to the forefront that many Canadians are having difficulty with , if not suffering, under the rules or guidelines placed on their behavior by COVID-19 coupled with significant financial pressures.

As The Morning Brief has dealt with these types of issues previously, it seemed appropriate to revisit them again.

During virtually every appearance in front of Rideau Cottage, either during the announcement of the day, or at the end of his message, the prime minister talks about us all being in this together or “we’ve got your back” or “we are here for you.” Presumably he is referring to those who are suffering from loss or health problems or economic difficulties brought on by COVID-19 and the shutting down of the entire economy.

Minister Monsef addressed some of these matters in a CBC interview yesterday as she spoke about gender based violence. She has been conducting consultations across the country and has found that this crisis has empowered perpetrators of domestic violence as abuse rates are rising in certain parts of the country.

She said “what the pandemic has done with self-isolation measures, with the closure of some of the support systems is create a powder keg.”

Rates of domestic violence have risen around the world and in Canada the closure of some shelters and reduced capacity in others due to distancing have added to the problem. Gender based violence has risen 20% to 30% in the last few weeks.

Calls to some shelters have gone up and in one case in the GTA, by 400%. York Regional Police report a 22% increase in domestic violence calls since March 17.

In rural communities calls have actually decreased and one theory is that the person being abused is under constant surveillance and can’t call for help or doesn’t have the opportunity to determine who to call.

During one of those announcements referred to earlier, Prime Minister Trudeau promised $50 million to assist women’s shelters, sexual assault and similar facilities in Indigenous communities. Shelters have also been deemed an essential service.

However, some shelters have been operating with reduced numbers of workers as COVID-19 spreads across the country.

Concern about the reduced number of calls in rural communities was addressed by Wanda McGinnis of the Wheatland Crisis Center in rural Alberta. Calls went down from 323 in January to 203 in March and her view was that “a pandemic doesn’t make violence stop. A pandemic just makes that silent.”

Lise Martin of Women’s Shelters Canada commenting on COVID-19 said “it’s really created an enormous pressure cooker. For a number of women the situation has been exacerbated.”

Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Chief Medical Health Officer, commenting on this situation and the choices encountered by women said directly to them “your immediate safety is more important than physical distancing or self-isolation.”

There is consensus that when the isolation measures start to be relaxed, there will be a high demand for help.

Given the above, the results of the Angus Reid poll released yesterday are not surprising. Its study entitled “Worry, Gratitude and Boredom” was designed to determine the affect of COVID-19 on “mental and financial health; who fares better, who is worse?”

It was found that job losses, illness, uncertainty and self-isolation have affected the emotional and psychological well-being of Canadians.

In a survey of 1,912 Canadians conducted from April 15-17, half reported a worsening of their mental health, with 10% saying their mental health has worsened “a lot.” Breaking down the results; Canadians who are worried (44%), anxious (41%), and bored (30%), however, perhaps surprisingly 34% said they were grateful.

Canadians depending on their answers were placed into four categories; 26% being hardest hit, 16% mentally struggling, 24 % financially struggling and 34% managing well. However 75% of those within each group agree it’s too soon to begin lifting restrictions on business and public gatherings. In the ‘hardest hit’ category, 25% said their relationships at home had suffered while only 6% in the ‘managing well’ group felt this way.

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid in an article published late yesterday reported on recent polling in Alberta where 78% of women and 71% off men say this crisis has had a negative impact on their mental health. Also a large majority of Albertans feel uncertain about the future, particularly those in the 19-54 age range. However, given the economic issues facing Albertans, when added to the health issues created by COVID-19, this is hardly surprising, but must be addressed.

Both the consultations carried out by Minister Monsef and the polling results point to the need for counselling now, but especially when the strictures are relaxed and people can move about freely once again.

As the federal, provincial and territorial governments begin to rewrite the rules on healthcare as they ease restrictions, they need to pay close attention to those who are suffering mental health issues and carry through with promises to increase funding for mental health.

In focussing on mental health, Canada’s First Ministers have the opportunity to turn their words of comfort and support into meaningful action. Either, the phrases ‘we are here for you’ and ‘we have your back’ mean something or they don’t; it is up to our leaders to show Canadians that they do.

To Come

  • House of Commons meets virtually
Today – April 29
  • U.S. Fed meets
April 29
  • House of Commons meets in person to deal with legislation that addresses student funding
April 30
  • GDP numbers for February to be released, providing a complete picture of Q1, 2020