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Coun. Dr. Paul Stent writes weekly letter to residents in Fort St. James

By Dr. Paul Stent, Fort St. James councillor

Greetings to all the good people living near to Stuart Lake, from the Mayor, Councillors and staff of the District of Fort St. James.

We have only had one new case, and no hospitalizations for the severe disease since the last newsletter. The next step in the immunization of our community members will be the second dose to those vaccinated in Phase 1 of the programme shown last week. We have not yet flattened the provincial curve, although it is not rising as steeply as it was in November/December. (People in Vancouver having big parties in penthouses have no doubt played their part in assisting the virus to spread further!)

Our concern for the first nine months or more, has been to avoid being infected with the virus and especially, avoid passing it to our elders and other medically vulnerable residents, who are more likely to suffer severe illness should they get infected. Apart from these concerns, the pandemic has had other negative impacts on our lives. Most people have been experiencing financial difficulties, due to closure of workplaces and layoffs; in addition to the psycho-social impacts of lost opportunities to socialize with family and friends, and to participate in recreational pursuits. Something that may not be as clearly evident, to those among us who do not know the individuals concerned, is the way in which COVID-19 has been both magnifying and contributing to Canada’s mental health crisis.

Healthcare workers have all been experiencing an increase in their stress levels, not only from fears of getting infected themselves, but with the increased workload of sick patients. They are also fearful of taking the infection back to their family members. The same applies to essential workers who come into close contact with the public, such as RCMP offices, firefighters, paramedics and grocery and other store workers. Mental health counsellors have also all being experiencing an increase in their workload with a corresponding increase in the level of their personal stress.

Studies have shown us that the use of alcohol and other substances increased significantly in 2020 compared to previous years, as a result of social distancing and self-isolation. Among those already struggling with substance abuse, alcohol and drug use has increased further, and many of these people have developed medical problems related to this, making them more susceptible to severe COVID-19 should they get infected. BC pediatricians state that the mental health of the majority of school students appears to derive benefit from being in the school environment.

The mental health effects have been particularly noticeable in children and adolescents. Most may just be experiencing increased feelings of depression from being away from their friends, as well as feelings of anxiety about returning to school, where they might become infected with the virus. Those who have been previously suffering from anxiety, depression and eating disorders, have almost all experienced deterioration in their symptoms, which may, of course, be further aggravated by increased abuse of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. Hospital staff and mental health counsellors are seeing an increase in the number of adolescents and youth presenting to see them expressing thoughts of suicide, or actually being brought in, having made attempts to end their lives.

We all need to talk to our kids, find out how they’re feeling and let them know that we can be there for them. If things are not well, remember that there are excellent services available: Call the Health Centre in Fort, Nak’azdli, Binche or Tl’azt’em to have a visit (virtually or in-person) with your doctor or a nurse or contact Connexus for child, adolescent and youth counselling. In addition, there are a number of free services available online or by telephone, which can be accesses both routinely or when in crisis.

Our message to all remains unchanged – Firstly, please be kind to yourselves and one another (ask for help if you need it and offer it to other – sometimes a phone call or chat while walking together can make a big difference). Secondly, do not let up your efforts to keep our community safe from COVID-19. Continue masking, social distancing and avoiding large indoor gathering, washing your hands regularly. These are still the main stages of prevention. Thirdly, outdoor exercise is great for prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety (and physical health in general), so take your kids and dogs out for a walk in the fresh air.

Below are some phone numbers with some helpful people:

Binche – 250.648.3673

District of Fort St. James – 250.996.8233

Nak’azdli – 250.996.7400

Tl’azt’en – 250.648.3350

Connexus – 250.996.1645

Foundry (ages 12 to 24) – 833.308.6379

Kids Help Line (24/7) – 800.668.6868

Kelty Mental Health Resources – keltymentalhealth.ca (Urgent phone – 800.784.2433)

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