Magaly Brodeur: The Psychosocial Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Need for Interdisciplinary Dialogue
While we are now locked in a race against time to find a vaccine that can neutralise the SARS-CoV2 Coronavirus, the collateral effects of the pandemic are increasingly being felt across our communities.
The measures put in place by public health authorities (quarantine, physical distancing, bans on social gatherings, etc.) are having major impacts on the health of our citizens. Indeed, the psychosocial impacts of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented (job loss, financial difficulties, the loss of support networks, psychological distress, anxiety, depression, violence, physical abuse, a rise in substance abuse, suicide, etc.).
In April 2020, the first results of the Canadian survey on the psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 revealed that a quarter of the respondents were experiencing significant symptoms of stress and anxiety (UdeS News, 2020). These symptoms, in combination with the increase in the use of substances like alcohol and drugs, have led to a worrying situation.
In Canada, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. Ontario’s coroner estimated that the number of fatal overdoses increased by 25% during the months of March, April and May 2020. In British Columbia, the number of overdose deaths jumped by 40% from the same period last year (Le Devoir, 2020). The closure of many Supervised Injection Facilities (SIFs) and the suspension of services for people with addiction problems across the country have complicated the situation for many drug users (Radio-Canada, 2020).
In May, the Société des Alcools du Québec confirmed that it had seen a 200% increase in its online sales since the start of the pandemic (Le Devoir, 2020). This rise is not surprising. Indeed, the literature has shown that in periods of isolation and stress, like in the context of a pandemic, people turn to substances like alcohol or drugs to alleviate their negative emotions (Volkow, 2020). For instance, after September 11, 2001 nearly 25% of New Yorkers reported an increase in their alcohol consumption (Vlahov et al., 2004).
Increased substance abuse and the symptoms of anxiety and depression also have side effects. We can observe a real domino effect. Indeed, substance abuse, anxiety and depression are risk factors for violence and abusive behaviour. According to the United Nations, a rise in violence and abuse against women, children and the elderly has been observed around the world (UN, 2020). This is a global attack, the impacts on our populations are considerable, and the traces of these psychosocial impacts will remain visible for years after the pandemic.
So, what are we to do in the face of this unprecedented situation? How can we help mitigate the psychosocial effects of the pandemic?
First of all, we must each ask ourselves, "Am I personally in distress? Have my habits changed in any way? For example, has the occasional glass of wine on Saturday become two or three glasses a day? Has my mood changed? Am I more sad or anxious?" If so, it is important to talk about it and, if needed, to seek help from a healthcare professional.
Next, it is important to ask, "What can I do on a daily basis to help during the current crisis?"
The time for creativity and innovation is now, and every member of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation can contribute in their own way to improving the health of our communities and reducing the psychosocial impacts associated with COVID-19.
So, my appeal is this: Take a few moments to think over your current efforts and ask yourself what more you can do to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. Whatever your field of expertise (the arts, literature, political science, management, etc.), get started. Consider developing new and unexpected interdisciplinary alliances. You are known for being leaders in your respective fields. This is a golden opportunity to have a meaningful impact on our communities.
The webinars in the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s "Emergence" series have allowed us to explore different themes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I therefore invite us all to continue the effort initiated by the Foundation.