• JP Leighton

This is Not a Sustainable Plan

Updated: Sep 12

I was interviewed yesterday by a writer/host for the Gateway (the University of Alberta's campus paper and run by students). The topic was remote learning and loneliness (mental health concerns more widely) among university students. I agreed to speak and share the psychological ups and downs for students about the administrative decision taken to have most university classes delivered remotely for this 2020 Fall term. The sad reality in my professional view is that there are many more downs than ups.


Six months ago (about March 16 2020 to be exact) when university courses were quickly transitioned to remote delivery, I was sympathetic to the effort. Everyone was still understandably in a panic about what this virus might present and I recalled the old adage - better safe than sorry. But fast forward 6 months later, and I'm in disbelief that there is no real or better plan from the university, health authority, and/or province about how we must learn to manage life within this crisis. And by manage, let me be clear, the plan cannot reflect the current provincial government's response to the situation, where the medical health authority provides a daily update that has become entirely useless and we are told to essentially avoid most people. Number of new cases do not matter if we are not also informed of the hospitalization rate and those who are sick enough to be moved into ICU. Infection rates are not useful; unless of course, infection rates for the common cold should also be the subject of daily news briefings.


A sustainable plan cannot be built on fear, information of limited use, and a denial of the psychological consequences this provincial response is having on children, young adults, and frankly almost everyone who would like to once again connect socially without public shaming (or fines). It has become shocking to observe the complacency related to the increased reports of domestic abuse cases, suicide calls, and kids calling the kids helpline. The comments in response to news stories about what has now been termed the media's fascination with 'panic porn' about the COVID19 crisis also baffles me. People have become polarized into camps without realizing that it does not matter if we all save ourselves from the physical infection of the virus if we all lose our minds in the process. The pandemic has shone a bright light on how ill informed most people are about our government's neglect and lip service to mental health.


As we brace ourselves for what is to come from our political, health and administrative leaders, I am less concerned about the virus than I am about the inability of our leaders and medical health professionals to put together a response that is more balanced and measured and less dystopian. Requiring everyone to stay home and "under the bed, slowly engendering distrust in others in order to avoid getting sick is not quite what I would call a "21st century smart response" to a viral agent. But it certainly is a perfect knee-jerk reaction and recipe for serious mental health consequences among children, parents and individuals who may require more social connection than others. Not everyone is going to relish staying home and Zooming all day. Many people, especially children and adolescents, require social connection and stimulation. It is not a want; it is a need. *Note. The cartoon below appeared in the Edmonton Journal on Saturday September 12, 2020 (p. A14). On the top right hand corner of the cartoon is the name of the cartoonist but I cannot make it out.



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