It’s a frosty Saturday morning as I write this. The ski hill near our home is jam packed. The air is crisp and cold, and the clouds are parting to reveal a mesmerizing cyan sky. Yet the cafe where I’m sipping my morning coffee remains empty.
In ten days, we’ll start our first COVID winter. As vaccines started to roll out this week, it’s been tempting to believe we’re nearing the end of the pandemic, but that’s not really true…. The coming holidays will be strange, indeed, as we stay isolated in our homes. A mental health crisis rolls into our communities, even as devastating waves of the coronavirus continue to pound us. And many of us are surely contemplating the looming work of economic renewal.
The approaching holiday season should bring respite and joy, but most of us will be unable to connect with loved ones, for fear of spreading the virus. Some of my friends are frustrated about this—even angry. They argue that where we live the chances of catching COVID are so very low: A fraction of a percentage point of the population is sick, they say.
“Be kind. Be calm. Be safe” — Dr Bonny Henry
I remind them, sometimes quietly, sometimes more forcefully, that intensive care units are filling in cities across the country and around the world. That responsible citizens will stay home, to ensure they don’t infect their neighbours. Case in point: The current infection bump in the US—an echo of their late November Thanksgiving holiday—will push that country’s death toll above an unfathomable 300,000 this weekend. For comparison, consider America’s history at war. Take, for example, Vietnam, where 211,454 Americans died. A grisly benchmark, to be sure, but a number now in the distant rear view of COVID. If after Christmas there’s a similar bump in COVID casualties, health officials say hospitalizations will reach disaster levels.
So how grateful do I feel right now to be contemplating only that for us it might be a strange Christmas? Perhaps we’ll be claustrophobic at home. Or perhaps it will merely be cozy. Perhaps we’ll be imaginative with how we Zoom our family, creating new games and connections. We’re incredibly lucky to be healthy and able to contemplate making the best of it. Many aren’t so fortunate.
The Simultaneous Mental Health Crisis
According to the Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH), “many [Canadians are] seeing their stress levels double since the onset of the pandemic.” We know that after the SARS crisis, residents of Hong Kong (one of the cities most adversely affected) showed a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Increased stress also correlates to increased substance abuse, with those experiencing more stress likely to be those who have also most increased their use of alcohol.
During the past few months, I’ve had a few down days, but not near depression. I’ve certainly slipped into the widely publicized habit of working much longer hours, but I’ve had the ability and the wherewithal to pull back, playing family board games, indulging in Netflix, losing myself in novels, and enjoying long mountain bike rides.
As an unabashed extrovert, I’m missing the hustle and bustle of conference season, with its dozens or hundreds of new connections and conversations. A distanced ‘walk n talk’ with a friend is a highlight of my week! While even those are on hold for now, I don’t for a moment take for granted that all things considered, I’ve got it pretty good.
Recovery funding must include mental health supports.
In a summertime study, CAMH “found that women, people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, those who are worried about their personal finances, people with children at home, and young people are more likely than others to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at this time.” That’s a significant swath of the Canadian population!
Similar studies in the US and the UK indicate that “racialized people are more likely to suffer more severe health effects… with Black individuals at greatest risk.” CAMH admits that Canada’s “race-based data on COVID-19 is extremely limited.” Certainly, we know the burden on Indigenous communities has been greater. A recent outbreak in the small community of the Klahoose First Nation, whose spectacularly beautiful territory I’m fortunate to visit a few times each year, was incredibly well managed, but nonetheless required closing their community to outside visitors, and constraining residents to stay at home. It’s experiences like these that are more likely to drive enduring effects, like PTSD. Fortunately, the swift action of Klahoose leadership stopped the outbreak in its tracks. Other communities may not fare so well; they’ll need rapid response health supports, and recovery funding simply must include mental health supports.
The Costs of this Strange, Strained Time….
The Government of Canada has poured a vast fortune into supporting citizens, businesses, and communities. The total bill in 2020 amounts to a deficit that is forecast to exceed $380 billion. This will be the largest shortfall since World War II. Many Canadians (some 55%, according to one study) feel that’s too great a price. This perplexes me to no end.
Are they not thinking of the families devastated by the sudden loss of loved ones? Are they not thinking of the countless entrepreneurs who may not ever be able to reopen their stores, their restaurants, or their small businesses? Are they stuck in the ‘how will we pay that back?’ train of thought, not thinking of the massive tax base accessible if Canada opens immigration just a little bit more? Are they not thinking of the historically low levels of taxation that in recent decades have concentrated wealth with ‘the 1%?’
Whatever they’re thinking, they are right to point out that we’ll need to manage our economy differently as we move through and beyond COVID. What will it mean to ‘build back better?’ How might we ‘emerge stronger?’ How might we design the ‘next economy?’
This is work to be undertaken in the years ahead by governments, industry associations, businesses and individual entrepreneurs and leaders. It’s work we at Junxion have been imagining for years….
Each of us has a role to play in economic recovery.
A few years ago, during an all-hands retreat on the Sunshine Coast near Vancouver, we stripped intentions for our company back to the barest essence, asking ourselves the fundamental questions, ‘How will the world be made better by our work?’ and ‘What are we uniquely capable of doing?’ Our answers?…
We envision an economy remade to serve the common good.
We help leaders build the success stories of the next economy.
This holiday season, we’ll be resting and recharging, getting ready to take a new tack as we set our course into 2021. We’ve spent 20 years getting ready for a moment that’s now here—a moment of such profound societal crisis, when change is in the air, and communities are demanding better…. Better ideas. Better strategy. Better enterprises. Better leadership.
As you celebrate the holidays this year, and as you look ahead to 2021, will you imagine what ‘better’ means to you? Will you contemplate what you can do, what your organization can do, what your industry can do, to contribute to our collective need to build back better? To do the work it will take to emerge stronger?
A year after that retreat, we reconvened in the New Forest, south of London, and asked ourselves, ‘How will we invite our clients into this work with us?’ Our response?…
Let’s Be Audacious Together….
Be safe. Be well. Be love.
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion. Reach him via [email protected]