The Broader Health Risks Associated With COVID-19 - April 15, 2020
As we continue through The Great Shutdown in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize and respond to the broader health risks that have emerged. These arise from increased uncertainty, anxiety and stress. Our normal routines have been disrupted. Some are fearful of having to working in public, especially front-line health care providers. Some employees are facing the pressure of working in an understaffed environment as coworkers self isolate or stop working. Some face the risk of burnout due to working long hours. Many parents are facing challenges trying to work from home and look after their young children. Others are anxious because they have been laid off or are afraid that they may be next in line to lose their job.
I am an economist, not a health professional, so why am I so concerned about this?
It’s because the economy affects our health, and our health affects the economy.
For example, Canadians with lower incomes experience poorer overall health than those with higher incomes. Becoming unemployed has a negative impact on mental health. This is significant when employment in Atlantic Canada fell by almost 50,000 in March.
Providing health care to treat those with COVID-19 or other health issues requires money and economic resources. The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at over $50 billion per year, including direct health care costs and lost productivity. In a typical week, about half a million employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. Individuals with a mental illness are much less likely to be employed. And the economic cost of substance use in Canada, five years ago, was estimated at almost $40 billion (led by alcohol and tobacco use, but also costs due to opioids and cannabis).
It is vitally important that we recognize the importance of this issue. Only a portion of our population will get sick with COVID-19 with the current measures in place. However, we are all struggling through this pandemic and the economic loss and uncertainty created by the resulting shutdowns. The pandemic and The Great Shutdown will have implications for our overall health, and this, in turn, will have sizeable impacts on the economy.
So what can we do?
First, we need to look after our own health– this includes our physical, mental, emotional and relationship health. Exercise, healthy coping strategies, spiritual resources and practices, tapping into our support networks and professional resources can all help.
Second, supporting the health of our teams, whether working remotely or on site.
Third, looking out for our families, neighbours and those we know who may be vulnerable or alone. In Atlantic Canada, one in five households are one-person households. About 40% of Atlantic Canadians 15 years and over are single– that is over 800,000 Atlantic Canadians.
Finally, there is an important role for policy. Policymakers need to recognize the broader health implications of this pandemic and the resulting economic consequences of The Great Shutdown on the overall health of Canadians. They can look for ways to support individuals and help them access resources they need. And they can support organizations that have expertise and resources to help people maintain their physical, mental, emotional and relationship wellness.
This pandemic is creating a great strain on all of us. As we look after those with COVID-19 and everyone being affected by the economic consequences of The Great Shutdown, it is important that we also address the broader health risks created because it will take its toll on the economy both during the shutdown and the subsequent recovery.