---- Our oldest-running pandemic
Despite our tide of COVID-19 news, there remain many social problems plaguing our communities that are not connected to the pandemic at all. The pandemic has worsened them; it didn't wash them away. They will still be with us once the pandemic is over.
These are the social problems spread across our society: poverty, homelessness, social and economic inequalities, racism ... and mental health. All are big problems with multiple causes, expressions, and collateral damage, bigger problems than the pandemic itself, in so far as these problems in the long run cause as much suffering, social costs, even death, as has COVID-19.
By definition, mental health is a social problem, not solely an individual challenge, exactly because its victims or sufferers cannot solve it by themselves since they themselves are part of the problem, being mentally ill. In varying degrees.
Mental illnesses strike everywhere, in all social classes and national backgrounds, all educational levels, all ages and genders. Mental illness is likely as old as are epidemics and, of course, mental illness can morph into different forms and intensities. There is no simple test for the illness, and no one cure, no vaccine, no isolation and little protection. We don't really know how it is triggered and why. In fact, for something so old and ubiquitous, it's surprising we don't have better care, better health responses to it and its effects. Surprising ... or scandalous?
There's a local context for this. Last September Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin rightly called on Quebec to focus genuine attention on public mental health and on treatment services. It is correct for municipal politicians to raise this alarm, since this huge problem is usually left to municipalities to deal with.
We once had large institutions to help and to deal with mental illness in each population. They were usually big, bureaucratic and emotionless facilities – much like the overpowering mental hospital portrayed in the classic book/movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (by Ken Kesey). So when the conservatives' austerity wave swept through as the Mulroney-Reagan-Thatcher retro-reaction to the 1960-'70s, jurisdictions across Canada began to "dump and run", privatizing mental health and shutting down government-run hospitals dedicated to these sufferers, no one really mourned the loss of the big, cold institutions. Unfortunately, few people paid any attention to their replacement: the street, back alleys, family basements. Alcohol and illicit drugs were virtually the "treatments" available.
Leading us to today's oldest-running pandemic, mental ill-health – with begging, homelessness, poverty, ill-health, and no (or minimal) treatment.
Mayor Pedneaud-Jobin was correct to raise this issue and to lobby for its inclusion in our post-COVID-19 world. We should insist that the Mayor's replacement, next fall, will also recognize the urgency of treating this old scourge; upgrading mental health has to be in her/his election promises.