Mental health struggles worsen through pandemic, restrictions

By Dave Baxter

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the province lifts COVID-19 mandates in Manitoba, one Indigenous Elder says the last two years of the pandemic and the restrictions and lockdowns that have come along with it have left Indigenous communities suffering from mental health issues in ways he has not witnessed before.

During a COVID-19 online roundtable event on Tuesday evening hosted by the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, health officials and Indigenous community members gathered virtually to speak on a range of topics surrounding the ongoing pandemic and its effects on First Nations communities.

During the roundtable elder and knowledge holder Ed Azure was asked how the pandemic has affected “mental and spiritual” health in communities, and he said those effects have been “profound,” and specifically challenging for both the youngest and the oldest members of many communities.

“Youth were really impacted by this and I would say impacted the most mentally,” Azure said.

“I do feel sorry for our youth, they were used to getting around and having their freedom, and then restrictions came with COVID, and that really shot down their mobility.”

And according to Azure several First Nations communities and specifically ones in the north saw issues of isolation and depression compounded among youth because they also lacked the ability to connect with others virtually.

“In our northern communities our Internet is not the greatest, they have poor Internet connectivity, and that along with the restrictions means that many of our youth were really housebound, and it created a lot of depression,” he said.

Along with youth, Azure said he has also watched as elders in many communities have suffered from issues such as loneliness and depression over the last two years.

“COVID is a depressing thing, it’s a depressing ailment,” Azure said.

“And while the measures that were taken to slow the spread of COVID, especially in our care homes helped to contain the spread, and I congratulate health staff on the reserves for that, many elders in personal care homes became desperately lonely because their loved ones would not even go visit them.

“So those impacts were very real and very pronounced.”

Despite the physical and mental challenges brought on by the pandemic, Azure said he believes that Indigenous leaders and First

Nations communities in Manitoba have done the best that they could to balance both the public health and mental health challenges created by the pandemic over the last two years.

“All in all I believe it was managed quite well,” he said.

Data released by the federal government early in the pandemic showed that COVID-19 and health measures and mandates including lockdowns have had negative effects on Indigenous people’s mental health.

According to a national study from the summer of 2020, 60% of Indigenous participants indicated that their mental health had become “somewhat worse” or “much worse” since the pandemic began, while 38% of Indigenous people surveyed reported dealing with “fair or poor” mental health since the pandemic began.

– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

 

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