Desde 1912 que a West Neighbourhood House desenvolve um importante trabalho de apoio social, no centro-oeste de Toronto. Conhecida por muitos pela sua primeira designação – St. Christopher House – esta é uma instituição que desenvolve programas e ações de apoio aos recém-chegados ao Canadá e a todas as franjas mais desfavorecidas ou desprotegidas da população – as crianças, os idosos, as mulheres, as vítimas de violência, os sem-abrigo e, de uma forma geral, todos os que, por circunstâncias várias da vida, sofrem de ligeiros ou graves problemas de saúde mental.
Os técnicos que trabalham na West Neighbourhood House tem uma visão privilegiada da realidade que, muitas vezes, passa despercebida aos nossos olhos. Nesta entrevista Isabel Palmar, Diretor of Older Adult Center, mostra-nos de uma forma muito clara o impacto da pandemia na sociedade. Os mais jovens ou pessoas de meia-idade enfrentam o problema do desemprego, e as suas consequências na estabilidade da vida familiar, e os mais velhos sofrem com a solidão e falta de afeto, para além de viverem com muitas dificuldades económicas.
A incerteza em relação ao futuro é para Isabel Palmar uma das maiores fontes de aumento dos níveis de ansiedade para todos, o que muito tem contribuído para um visível crescimento de casos de perturbações mentais, de uma forma transversal – dos aos mais velhos, aos mais novos.
No entender da nossa entrevistada, as medidas governamentais para enfrentar a pandemia parecem revelar uma preocupação séria com a situação causada pela doença que está a assolar o mundo, mas defende que no que diz respeito ao caso particular da saúde mental, os fundos disponibilizados não são suficientes para dar resposta às longas filas de pessoas a necessitar de apoio.
Milénio Stadium: West Neighbourhood House works to support the community in various social areas. How would you assess the current situation?
Isabel Palmar: We see the power of neighbourhoods and how people working together is instrumental in a situation like the one we are living at the moment. People from all age spectrums are worried and feeling stressed. Young and middle-aged people are losing jobs and struggling to cope in terms of securing housing, ensuring food security and safety for themselves and their families. Seniors and people with disabilities living with fixed incomes, because of public health measures in place they are losing their usual connections with family members, friends and community. Some are connecting virtually but that is not the same as face to face and for some people that may not satisfy their need to socialize, this ties in with the higher rates of mental health issues that we are seeing, people are not connecting and feel socially isolated and alone during a huge public crisis. The uncertainty causes high levels of anxiety as there is no clear idea as to how this will progress or when we will be able to socialize again. What we do know is that we all need to be united in following Public Health’s advice and do our part, work together while physically apart from each other.
MS: It is normal in situations of economic and social crisis to have risen in mental health problems? Is this pandemic and the crisis causing a spike in people seeking mental health help?
IP: Yes, in particular people who already struggle with mental health issues as well as those with unstable housing and/or relay on very low incomes. Many people are finding it challenging to cope especially as the pandemic continues, the separation from friends and family is a new reality that they are not used to. Increase in anxiety and fear for their health and that of their family. We have noticed that participants have a greater need to talk, share their feelings and concerns. We have adapted our services so that we are contacting clients virtually, by phone/video conferencing, on an ongoing basis and ensuring that they have access to West NH and community services and resources available to support them during these difficult times.
MS: Who is most affected? Young, old?
IP: Everyone is affected. Those who were already living in disadvantaged conditions like those living on the street and those struggling to make ends meet got affected right away. As the days went by, people became increasingly impacted by the risk of losing jobs, not having sufficient funds to pay rent or food; children having to wear masks to school or having to do work from home and be away from friends or co-workers; frail seniors and older adults especially those with medical conditions are more at risk of dying. LTC concerns for residents and families.
Essential services workers, like food and health care, while they have work, in some cases, they are also at greater risk of exposure. Sometimes keeping them away from their families as they need to be safe to be able to work and support the community.
MS: What support can be given to those who are currently suffering from problems that are affecting their mental health?
IP: Counselling; they may need to be connected to a mental health professional; Knowing that they have someone that they can reach out to. West NH clients know that they can connect with us, we continue to provide service virtually via the telephone, video and in person with social distancing.
Besides regular visits over the phone, participation in social recreational and health promotion activities such as meditation and yoga can help people stay connected and active. Activities offered through West NH are free of charge and are facilitated over the phone or Zoom or other social media platforms according to what participants are comfortable/familiar with. This may be one of the positive things coming out of this pandemic… we have all been forced to explore other ways of working/ seeking supports and some of these new ways have great potential to become more effective ways of working in terms of the use of “professional time” and the environmental impact of reduced travelling/less pollution for example.
MS: How can we protect these people from the possibility of contracting Covid-19?
IP: Education – review safety practices/Public Health measures with participants and community through local media for example. Provision of services such as MOW’s, so seniors don’t have to leave the home to get food as that can reduce their exposure to the virus; referral to services and volunteer organizations that will do grocery shopping for participants; support people in self-isolation/quarantine; virtual programming so that they can feel connected even while at home. We have developed procedures for contactless deliveries, we do screen both staff and participants before each service to ensure safety and that they are not exposed by staff entering their homes.
Our Home Support Workers monitor their health and get tested as needed to ensure their safety, the safety of their families and clients in the community.
MS: In your opinion, have the governments’ provisions been effective in protecting Canadians, not only from the pandemic, but also from mental disorders that can be aggravated at such a time?
IP: Governments seem to be taking the pandemic very seriously, as we all must! I hope that the threat of a financial crisis will not prevent us from addressing the need to maintain physical distancing and implementing all precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. We are just experiencing the detrimental consequences of alleviating the restrictions.
We have seen some needed financial supports to individuals as well as businesses, this is important so people can navigate through these difficult times the dignity we all deserve.
With new government and United Way special grants we have also seen other types of supports been provided through community support agencies such as West NH. Some programs include Red Cross for food hampers that can be delivered to the persons home and Care Packages provided by West NH to people transitioning home from hospital as well as seniors in the community – our goal is to support people manage life while self-isolating.
There is some new funding for mental health treatment programs but there are still long wait lists; financial assistance tailored/more geared to working people which is needed but low-income seniors and persons with disabilities continue to live on fixed incomes and few income supports provided.