Fresh Takes

The most vulnerable hit hard by lockdowns

Canadians have been subjected to a triple traumatic shock in 2020, on public health, political, and economic fronts.

The health shock was of course the appearance of COVID-19, a new deadly virus. The political shock is the months-long imposition of a strict and generalized lockdown and mandatory physical distancing. And the economic shock is the forced closing of all so-called “non-essential” retail businesses, the cascading bankruptcies, and the unemployment to come, in addition to parents who could have kept working but needed to care for their children full time.

These sudden disruptions do not affect everyone the same way. Most Canadians will have surmounted these challenges—avoidable or not—with courage, and the hope that in 2021, they will be but a distant memory. Their spirits will nonetheless have taken a beating, as can be seen from their increased self-medication (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, etc.)[1] and their increased negative perception of their own mental health.[2]

However, the most vulnerable Canadians (for example, those who are prone to addiction or subject to domestic abuse) will unfortunately not have had the resilience required to weather the political and economic shocks. The enforced idleness, the influx of easy money,[3] the appearance of lower-quality drugs on the partially embargoed market, the deprivation of human contact (and with it, the empathy and assistance they could have benefited from) will have proven fatal.

Domestic abuse and mistreatment are greater and more frequent when one cannot leave the home to get away. Anxiety and solitude are more acute in the absence of regular work and routine social interactions. The most vulnerable among us have lost heart.

Less able to engage in physical activity outside to maintain their mental hygiene, they turned to “interior” adaptive strategies: food, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Taken in sufficient quantity, and in insufficient quality, they lead nowhere good. Skyrocketing deaths from opioid overdoses are a tragic illustration of this.[4]

“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is a survivor’s adage. For those who are insufficiently resilient, being confined to home is no blessing; it could even be a death sentence. Clearly we can, and we must, do a better job of precisely targeting and calibrating pandemic restrictions in order to protect the most vulnerable among us instead of resorting to indiscriminate lockdowns.

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1. Statistics Canada, “Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 2: Monitoring the effects of COVID-19,” June 4, 2020, pp. 4-5.
2. Leanne Findlay and Rubab Arim, “Canadians report lower self-perceived mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Statistics Canada, April 24, 2020, pp. 3-4.
3. Anna Desmarais, “Coping with COVID — but at what cost?” CBC News, October 7, 2020.
4. John Paul Tasker, “Opioid deaths skyrocket, mental health suffers due to pandemic restrictions, new federal report says,” CBC News, October 28, 2020.

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