Confinement, deconfinement, re-confinement, re-deconfinement: in short, you know the recipe. When the number of cases climbs, it’s “everybody, stay home,” and when everyone is on the verge of a breakdown, the measures are relaxed, and we are allowed to go play outside.
The fight against COVID-19 and the maintenance of Quebecers’ mental health has become a ping-pong game. A “health yo-yo,” in other words. Never before have we been so concerned about what is going on between our ears, and yet we continue to talk about it in the wrong way. Let me explain.
Isolation, poverty and precariousness, to name just a few, make up a solid foundation for mental health disorders for a very large portion of the population. In contrast, the dominant discourse prefers to see issues such as depression, anxiety, and excessive consumption as individual problems. “It is his or her brain that is not working as it should, or that is off balance,” we are told. It’s convenient to think this way, as is does not compel us to do very much as a society to solve such problems that are, in fact, deeply rooted in the way we choose to organize ourselves as a society.
When François Legault tells us that he is relaxing health measures because he wants to preserve the mental health of Quebecers, he is forgetting one important thing: many of those who were already isolated, anxious and unhappy before the pandemic are still dealing with these issues, and will continue to do so, once this has come to an end. It’s fine to be able to practice a sport in a park, or to visit a museum, but make no mistake, these activities are mostly aimed at a certain social class who, for the most part, already have some protective measures at their disposal.
Those among us who are sick, lonely or less fortunate do not need a softball team and the latest movement in contemporary art; what they badly need are psychosocial services. It is no longer enough to throw a handful of cash at existing services while dishing out a “pep talk” at a press conference in the hope of creating change. The government must invest boldly and massively in the mental health of Quebecers if it wants to be able to claim to hold this issue at heart. This is the only way in which the psychological suffering exacerbated by the current pandemic can be adequately addressed.
Counsellor at Anchor and Wings
Translated by Sarah Rennie