Selected bylines at CBC Montreal

Photo credit: Nick Morrison

All of my CBC bylines are here.

With help from citizens, Montreal researchers are tracking the trees in people’s backyards | CBC News

Volunteers bring together people and produce to feed Park-Ex and reduce food waste | CBC News

Montrealer’s debut graphic novel is an homage to Filipino culture | CBC News

Classroom workshops offer support to LGBTQ youth in rural Quebec | CBC News

This DIY shop is teaching Montrealers to work with their hands | CBC News

New docuseries opens a window into the lives of eastern Mi’kmaw fishers | CBC News

Montreal artist and body hair activist graces magazine cover to spread message of self-love | CBC News

Clothes, hot water and fresh bannock: Indigenous homeless people supported by program based out of film trailer | CBC News

Gay and Grey in Montreal: How one group helps older LGBTQ+ crowd find community | CBC News

For Indigenous people, cultural safety means medical safety

Photo credit: Spencer Colby | Article originally published in The Pigeon.

Joyce Echaquan was surrounded by all the familiar features of a healthcare environment. She lay in a motorized bed wearing a teal gown, the walls were a soft beige, and the beeps of medical machinery faintly filled the air.

The racist phrases said by staff in Echaquan’s hospital room were familiar too.

She would die in that room on Sept. 28, 2020, at 37 years old, and leave behind seven children.

The circumstances of her death at the Centre Hospitalier de Lanaudière in Joliette, Q.C. are still being investigated by the Quebec government. However, Echaquan put the hostility and contempt she experienced in the moments before her death on direct display through a Facebook Live video.

“She’s only good for sex,” a nurse said off-camera. “You made bad choices, my dear.”

This racism towards Echaquan echoes the experiences of many other Indigenous people treated in hospitals across Quebec.

Marjolaine Siouï, executive director for the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission, told The Pigeon in an interview that Echaquan wasn’t alone in her mistreatment by healthcare professionals.

“Joyce’s case is not an isolated case,” she explained. “Sometimes, it’s a lack of knowledge, understanding, or comprehension.”

“In other ways, it’s about pure racism.”

Indeed, the cultural reckoning that swept across the country in 2020 quickly amplified Echaquan’s video, with some drawing parallels between her death and the death of George Floyd in the US this past May.

In early October, thousands marched through Montréal and held vigils in Ottawa demanding action against systemic racism in healthcare.

Siouï compares this recent public outcry to the Idle No More movement, which started in 2012 and campaigns to protect both First Nations territory and sovereignty.

“[Echaquan’s death] kind of re-enacted that movement in a different way,” she said. “We can no longer lose that momentum. We need to make sure that real changes in the system are going to be made.”

Quebec leaders have so far denied the existence of systemic racism in healthcare—a position they doubled down on while simultaneously rejecting a series of recommendations to improve health care in Echaquan’s name.

Despite this fact, they announced that they will provide $15 million over five years to train hospital staff in cultural sensitivity and hire workers who can help Indigenous patients navigate the Quebec health system.

Is this enough?

Read the full article at The Pidgeon

Are satellites the future of the Internet in rural Canada?

Originally published in The Concordian | Photo credit: SpaceX, Unsplash.com

Trudeau announces $600 million project to connect rural Canada to broadband

The federal government is offering telecommunication companies subsidized access to a network of low-orbit satellites in an effort to increase broadband availability across the country, but questions remain over whether this will be a sustainable solution for delivering Internet to Canada’s remote regions.

On Monday, the federal government announced that the government will spend $600 million to gain access to a group of low-orbit satellites run by Canadian company Telesat. The government will then offer satellite network access to Canadian internet service providers — or ISPs for short — at a reduced rate, who can then pass on the service to consumers at a reasonable price.

If granted access to the Telesat network of satellites, an ISP must pass on the service to consumers at 50 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds. ISPs will also be “subject to reporting conditions,” according to an email sent to The Concordian from the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

Questions remain over whether satellite Internet will be affordable for people in remote communities.

“It’s great to have rural broadband access,” said Daniel Paré, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa.

“But if it’s priced at a level that doesn’t make it affordable for people, how much advantage does it really bring at that point?”

In the past, when the government offered companies subsidized access to telephone lines for rural communities, phone plan prices did not reduce significantly. This is partially due to the challenges associated with crossing Canada’s vast terrain. It is also because there is smaller demand in smaller communities, making it difficult for ISPs to justify reducing their prices.

Government officials say this is one of their main reasons for acquiring Telesat network access.

“Canada is a big country,” said Minister Navdeep Bains during a press conference on Nov. 9. “And our geography presents challenges to building networks.”

He said satellites will help overcome Canada’s difficult geography, but did not say whether ISPs will be required to cap their prices when offering satellite access to consumers.

Erin Knight is a spokesperson for OpenMedia, a non-profit based in Vancouver that advocates for changes to Canada’s Internet policies. She also expressed concern over the sustainability of satellites as a long-term solution. She said that, while a satellite network can be effective for covering a large amount of terrain, they tend to have a shorter lifespan than land-based infrastructure.

This study from 2016 suggests that a satellite’s lifespan can be hard to predict; it can change significantly based on its size and distance from the ground.

“Low Earth Orbit satellites can last for a few years, versus a fiber connection which can last for more than 70 years,” she said.

The magic of Mama Ouy’s kitchen

Originally published in The Link | Photo Credit: Tom Lundy

It was a chilly afternoon in the St-Laurent borough of Montreal. The community was quiet, the sky still undecided over whether it wanted to rain. 

For many people, this would have been a perfect afternoon for movies and tea. But at Mama Ouy’s, Heany Kuy Ouy was hard at work with her two daughters, cooking up a flurry of southeast Asian dishes. The dining table was covered with a spread of pre-made foods, empty takeout boxes, and an iPad with a list of this week’s orders.

“We’re a home-cooking business,” explained Alida Ouy, one of the daughters in the Ouy household. “We highlight our mother’s cooking, and we try to make traditional southeast Asian food that you can’t get in restaurants.”

They named their operation Mama Ouy’s, a reflection of Heany’s leadership in the kitchen and her role as matriarch of the family. Together they repurposed their home kitchen into a takeout machine, and they were getting ready for the dinner rush.

Mama Ouy’s is part of a growing trend of online takeout businesses that have emerged because of the pandemic. “Me and my sister, we weren’t working anymore. We weren’t in school,” explained Anika Ouy, the youngest of the two sisters. “We just thought it would be a fun project.”

The Ouys don’t sell their food on UberEats or in a restaurant, instead, they advertise their food on various Facebook community groups or through their Instagram page. Customers order directly through the social media chat function, and schedule a time to stop by the Ouy household and pick up their food.

Mama Ouy’s is part of a growing trend of social media home-kitchen takeout services. Facebook groups like Local 88, SHOP LOCAL – Montreal, and Montreal Food Scene host a number of advertisements for peoples’ home-cooked creations. Many of them will specialize in some kind of traditional food, from Haitian spicy peanut butter to fresh Vietnamese soup.

At Mama Ouy’s, Heany oversees all the cooking. She specializes in Cambodian food, but also tries to work in recipes from other southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Singapore.

On October 10, she had a mix of items on the menu. The main course was Borbor Sach Moan Kuy Teav Cha, a Cambodian-Chinese rice porridge with bean sprouts, dried shrimp, and dried octopus. For dessert, a sweet pudding made with pumpkin, tapioca, and coconut milk.

While Heany is busy in the kitchen, Alida and Anika run the social media pages, photograph the food, and pack the orders neatly to give to customers.

Heany Kuy Ouy immigrated to Canada to escape the Cambodian civil war in the 1970s. She is the oldest of her family and went to work quickly after she arrived. She learned how to make sushi and opened a restaurant in Côte-des-Neiges. She then moved on to open a number of food kiosks in malls around Montreal. She eventually sold her kiosks and is now retired.

“She’s always grown up being her own boss,” explained Alida. “She’s very matriarchal, powerful, and independent.”

Heany says that she’s happy that she can now make the food that she wants to make. She also enjoys sharing her cooking with people who may not have tried Cambodian food before.

“I like to work with my daughters because it’s easy. When there’s lots to do, I can scream at them! And they’re able to help me do things that I’m not able to do when I’m busy cooking.”

Alida and Anika are used to helping their mother with her cooking. Since they were little, they would do small jobs around Heany’s sushi kiosk.

“We all have really big personalities, so we do clash a bit,” said Anika. “But it’s actually a lot of fun, and it’s brought us a lot closer.”

Since the Ouys launched their business, they have reached almost 1,000 followers on Instagram. Since then, they have connected with other cooks who are putting a spotlight on southeast Asian food.

The Ouy family do not know if they will continue cooking for long, but they are willing to consider new business opportunities should they arise. At a minimum, they are grateful for what they have accomplished so far.

“We’ve become part of a community that we didn’t know existed,” said Alida. “We hope we can leave an impact on people even if we stop.”

How psychedelics are a game-changer for dying Canadians

Photo credit: Amelia Rankine. This article was originally published in the The Pigeon.


This article discusses topics relating to depression, anxiety, and end-of-life care. It may be triggering to some readers.


In August 2020, four terminally-ill patients were granted permission to use psychedelic therapy in Canada. They were given psilocybin, the hallucinogenic component of what are popularly called “magic mushrooms,” to ease their anxieties and depression towards the end of their lives.

So how does psychedelic therapy work, and why is it being used for end-of-life care?

Psilocybin is just one type of psychedelic therapy that has piqued the interest of medical researchers since the 1950s. However, there has been a historical reluctance to adopt these therapies for mental health in end-of-life care, also known as palliative care.

End-of-life care involves helping someone remain comfortable, and physicians will use palliative practices to alleviate things like pain and shortness of breath, as well as provide support through death for patients with life-threatening conditions.

James Downar, MD, is a researcher and head of the palliative care division at the University of Ottawa. “To palliate is to cloak,” he explained in an interview with The Pigeon. “When we palliate a symptom, we are soothing or easing [it].”

Doctors choose this course of treatment when a condition is deemed unfixable. “There are times when you can’t actually fix the problem—but you may be able to reduce the effect it has on a person,” he said.

Downar explains that there are many kinds of suffering that may occur because of an incurable condition, including physical, mental, and existential.

According to Downar, existential distress occurs when a person is robbed of the ability to do the things that give their life purpose. When a person is given a terminal diagnosis, this feeling of loss takes on an air of permanence.

“You think to yourself, ‘Well I’m going to die, I know I’m going to die,’” he explained. “’The cause of my loss of purpose is permanent […] I’m basically just waiting out the rest of my time until a complication takes me away.’”

Existential suffering is where psychedelics hold the most potential for good, he said.

The challenge with existential suffering is that there is no reliable therapy to treat it. “People have tried a number of approaches,” he explains. “None of them have been all that effective.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Fundraisers are moving online as the pandemic causes safety concerns

Originally published in The Concordian | Photo courtesy of the Leukemia and Lymphoma society of Canada

Every October the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada hosts a walk in Montreal to raise money and awareness for blood cancer. It usually takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau. 

But this year, the park will be quiet. 

On Oct. 24, like many other fundraisers during the pandemic, the event will be hosted online because of COVID-19.

Aptly called Light the Night, the walk is usually recognizable by the lanterns carried by its participants. Christina Cinquanta, the fund development manager for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, Quebec region, said 7,000 walkers attended the event last year.

“Light the Night is one of the biggest fundraisers and celebrations that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hosts,” said Cinquanta. “But this year we determined that a virtual Light the Night is the most appropriate and responsible thing to do.”

The organizers of Light the Night are now making the event available online in the form of a nation-wide broadcast on Oct. 24. Organizers are also adapting formerly in-person activities to things that can be done remotely. 

For example, they will be mailing treat boxes and lanterns directly to the teams of volunteers who helped fundraise for the event.

Cinquanta said that Light the Night Montreal alone raised $1.4 million for the organization in 2019. This year the Society lowered their goal to one million dollars.  She is optimistic that they will meet their goal. 

“We have teams fundraising every day,” she said. “They’re doing bingo nights, poker tournaments, raffles — all virtually. They’re doing everything they can.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s move to online raises questions about how the charitable sector is adapting to the pandemic more generally.

Many Montreal and Quebec charities have either postponed their events, converted them to online, or cancelled altogether. This scenario has some experts questioning the sector’s dependence on events as fundraising tools.

It is difficult to say how donors have responded to organizations’ efforts so far. 

A recent survey by the Institut Mallet suggests that Quebec residents have made more monetary donations during the pandemic than previously. However, 69 per cent of charities reported declines in revenues nation-wide, according to a recent report by Imagine Canada.

Daniel Lanteigne, a philanthropy consultant at BNP Performance, has been advocating for charities to start moving away from events and building alternate relationships with donors.

“We have been saying for many years: less events, more discussion with donors,” he said. “So you can get them to a point where they might give a major gift or a planned gift.”

Greg Thomson is the Research Director at Charity Intelligence. 

“Some of these events are very expensive,” he said.

“When donors give $100 to someone who is walking or running, they are really only giving $50 or $40 dollars. The rest is going to covering the costs.”

Thomson hopes that charities’ online experiments will lead to long-term innovation in the sector, particularly in the form of reducing event costs. 

In the future he hopes that charities will use lessons learned from the pandemic to bolster their other fundraising methods or re-configure their events to maximize the benefit-to-cost ratio.

“From the difficulties we have, innovation sparks improvement for a lot of these big events,” Thomson said.

Mental health needs to be part of the conversation about long-term care

This story was originally published in The Fulcrum | Photo credit: Georg Arthur Pflueger, unsplash.com

Long-term care is one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. The high death toll in long-term care homes, lack of proper action from many of these places, and—as was the case west of Montreal—the literal abandonment of long-term care residents supports the case.

Amid the chaos is a second tragedy that few have talked about so far: residents’ mental health. As Canada re-opens, this issue should not be left behind.

For a long time, it has been an open secret that loneliness, social isolation, depression, and anxiety are common among older adults in long-term care homes.

In a report done by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2010, 44 per cent of the sampled 50,000 seniors who lived in long-term care had a diagnosis or reported symptoms of depression. The reality is, if you are in long-term care, you may be more at risk of psychological distress. And there are some driving factors that can put certain older adults more at risk than others. 

One such factor is disabilities. Many people are admitted to long-term care when they are physically or mentally unable to take care of themselves. This loss of independence, depending on their ability to cope, can lead to depression. 

Another is change in environment. When a person transitions to long-term care, they might be stressed or anxious about what the future holds for them. This is not helped by the fact that many long-term care homes resemble hospitals more than actual homes—which can lead to further feelings of alienation and discomfort among residents. 

And yet another factor, and perhaps the most tragic, is the notion of grief at the loss of loved ones. Grief is already enough to put a person’s mental health at risk. But combined with disability and living in an unfamiliar environment, it can further set the stage for anxiety and depression.

In May of this year, long-term care residents made up 81 per cent of all COVID-19 related deaths. It is therefore not hard to imagine that rates of depression and anxiety would increase among the survivors. 

Surviving residents bore witness to the death of their friends and neighbours, all while coping with their own feelings of isolation and uncertainty related to the virus. Going forward we might expect them to be consumed by a new level of grief and trauma.

On the bright side, there are many things we have done to stay connected to residents during the pandemic. Children have organized letter-writing campaigns, volunteers are teaching residents to do video calls, families visit and have play music outside of residents’ windows.

These efforts are good, but they should only be a start. There remains a dire need to address the mental health of long-term care residents, especially as the trauma of the pandemic sets in.

As Canada re-opens, long-term care must stay on the agenda and mental health needs to be part of the conversation. 

We have all been shocked by the pandemic, some more than others. 

When it comes to mental health, it is one thing to survive, but it is another thing entirely to feel alive.

How Lea Kabiljo is bringing empathy into art education

It was the last interview that really got her.

Lea Kabiljo was driving with one of the people she most admires, visiting important places from this person’s life.

This was the third of three interviews, rounding out to eight hours of total recorded conversation.  Lea was to write a profile about her subject for one of her graduate school courses.

Her subject’s name was Sheila “Twinkle” Rudberg, the founder of LOVE: Leave out Violence—a not-for-profit devoted to empowering at-risk youth in Canada.

Twinkle was known for having turned a tragedy into a story of hope. She and her husband were out for a night on the town, when they witnessed a boy snatch the purse of an elderly woman. Her husband chased after the boy, leading to a confrontation that ended in her husband’s death. This is the event that eventually led Twinkle to found her organization.

Anyone familiar with LOVE: Leave out Violence would be familiar with this story. But Lea used her interviews to reveal the other parts of Twinkle, beyond just the tragedy.

Twinkle recounted that she was an adopted child. She explained the true origin of her nickname. She told stories about her first kiss, her hobbies and interests, and other intimate memories.

After eight hours of listening and sharing, Lea and Twinkle’s relationship moved beyond an interviewer-interviewee dynamic. They became friends.

As they sat in the car, in the final moments of their final interview, Twinkle reflected on everything she shared with Lea. And after this, there was silence. There was nothing left to do but be grateful for the experience they both shared.

Every time Lea sits down to listen—to really listen—she needs a moment afterwards to let the person’s story sink in. She takes their experience and reflects on it, without self-interest or judgement. This, as she explains it, is empathy in practice.

Lea has made a career out of empathy. So far, she has experimented with this idea through her work abroad, local art projects, and as program director for LOVE: Leave out Violence. She is now a PhD candidate in Art Education at Concordia University, where she wants to show educators how to approach their students with more empathy and understanding.

“People often confuse empathy with sympathy,” she explains. “Sympathy is when you feel sorry for somebody, you feel their sadness. Empathy is not sharing the same feeling; it’s understanding what’s happening to the other person.”

Lea had a formative experience with this concept while teaching at an all-girls school. Her class was a tight-knit group of 13-year-olds who would coordinate in making her life difficult.

“For the first year, I cried almost every day,” Lea said. “These girls got to me.”

She explains that, when you feel attacked, it can lead to a me-versus-them mentality—a dynamic that, she says, is less than ideal.

“It’s pointless to be engaging in argument with a student,” she says. “The idea is you need to resolve things, to mellow it out.”

She eventually learned to de-escalate conflicts by removing her “self” from the equation. This meant remembering that the students’ behavior was not personal. She needed to set aside her own pain to create room for understanding.

Lea admits that this was a difficult task. Everyone has an ego, no matter how big or how small, and it takes practice to set it aside and understand the reality of a situation.

To re-orient herself in the classroom, the first thing she did was to avoid reacting in the moment.

This does not mean her emotions were gone; she would still feel upset on the way home. But by sitting with her feelings in a quieter environment, she learned to look inward and understand why she felt the way she did.

Doing so helped her see that the students were not out to get her, that it was not personal, which helped her keep a cooler head. This, she explains, helped changed the dynamic.

To the outside observer, Lea’s ability to stay calm seems natural.

“She has this innate capacity,” says Lorrie Blair, professor in Art Education and Lea’s PhD supervisor. “She’s just remarkable.” 

But at the same time, says Lorrie, Lea’s approach in the classroom—and in life, generally—is one that was cultivated over years of community service and experience.

“Lea is a very caring and adventurous person,” says Gia “Lucky” Howard Greer, Lea’s friend and colleague in the Art Education program. “She has enough life experience to understand how it is to move through the world in different ways.”

Lea is now using her experience to inform her PhD work. She hopes to empower teachers to empathize with their students.

“We have amazing educational programs for teachers,” she says. “But we don’t teach teachers how to listen, how to get to their kids.”

She explains that oral histories have a role to play here. This means teachers should sit, listen, and understand where their students are coming from.

To get this point across, Lea has her students tell someone else’s story through a piece of art. In this exercise they are to pay attention to how they filter the story into their final product. What choices did they make? Why? Does this tell the full story?

Through this exercise, students learn how they are positioned in relation to the other person. Once they know this, they can better empathize with the other.

Lea has her own set of interviews she needs to re-visit for her PhD thesis. The recordings are currently in a box, waiting to be listened to.

“I’m waiting to open up these interviews because I want to be 100 per cent present for them,” she says. “It’s not something you can do in passing, in between work and going out for drinks.”

Every time she re-listens to an interview, she relives the conversation with that person—a process that requires time and attention.

After her thesis is done, she hopes to keep collecting interviews and listening to people’s stories. But she needs to find a good reason.

“I can’t do it just because it makes me feel great,” she says.

Lea’s experiences point to the special power of empathy. If we can all make room for deeper, more meaningful connections, what other gifts might we bring into the world?

Online Shaming Will Only Reinforce the Sentiment Among Anti-Maskers

Originally published in The Fulcrum | Photo credit: Macau Photo Agency, unsplash.com

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Such is the chant of the Twitter mob against those who do not wear masks.

And I appreciate the sentiment.

To prance around mask-less is, without a doubt, a sucky thing to do. Especially when some very smart people—some might even call them doctors­—say that face coverings have a role to play in stopping the spread of the virus.

To fly in the (masked) face of public health advice is at best risky and at worst fatal to the most vulnerable among us. But it does not make you an evil person.

Maybe there is something in the air. Maybe I am going through some changes in my life, and it is making me rethink some things. Normally, I would be the first to call out the facial nudists for single-handedly spreading the Plague.

But hey, new day, new me. I am going to make a case for compassion towards those whom many have called a bunch of yahoos.

So, before you fling your righteousness across cyberspace, hoping for humble deference to yoursuperior intellect, let us explore a crucial dimension to your online interaction.

What we need to remember is that humans are complicated and messy creatures. Rarely can a person be boiled down to one word, thing, or defining feature.

If we take this into consideration, then going nude-faced to the supermarket should not be the be-all, end-all of our impression of that person. Rather, it should just be the beginning. Why are they not wearing a mask? If they are distrustful of scientists, why are they distrustful? If they are afraid of losing their rights, why are they afraid? What happened in their life that informs their decisions now?

I am no therapist, but I have been to therapy–a fact, I suppose, that can work either for or against me here. But by exploring my own emotions and traumas, I have learned enough to know that people rarely do things without an underlying reason.

I ask you to consider this: when someone refuses to wear a mask, their action is wrong. But to shame them based on this action does nothing to ease other worries they may have.

Let me be clear. I do not mean to say that you, who throws sick shade and slam dunks over your opponents, are wrong in feeling the way you do. You also have a right to be upset. But I would ask you to look inward to make sure you know what is driving your anger.

I am a cancer survivor. I was 24 years old when I was diagnosed. And this gives me a special flavor of resentment towards the never-maskers.

On the one hand, they are putting people who are immunocompromised at risk of death. My anger here is rooted in my own fear and experience of being immunocompromised.

And on the second hand, they are exhibiting a special kind of ableism that is reserved for those who have never lost trust in their bodies. This anger is rooted the helplessness I felt when I was first diagnosed.

I am not the only person in the world who has experienced suffering. It would be unfair of me to assume others have never experienced pain like me. If I genuinely believe this fact, then I can’t believe that people who don’t wear masks are doing so for only selfish reasons. We have all been shocked by the pandemic, we all have our own histories, so we will all react differently.

In the end, I suppose this is a long, drawn-out way to iterate an old but faithful cliché: people are complicated.

But sometimes we need reminding.

COVID-19 could be worsening Canada’s mental health, but key data are missing

This article was originally published on the SWCC Blog | Photo credit: Serkan Göktay, pexels.com

The number of Canadians expressing increased levels of anxiety and depression has quadrupled since the arrival of COVID-19, according to a recent report by Mental Health Research Canada.

Ontario responded by making therapy free for people with anxiety or depression. Minister of Health Christine Elliott explained that individuals will be assessed by a “trained mental health clinician” and then “offered a therapy program that best addresses their level of need.”

Research is underway to better understand the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Canadians. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto regularly updates its survey numbers online.

CAMH found that 25 per cent of respondents report moderate to severe anxiety levels. Women, people with children under the age of 18, and younger adults (aged 18-39) are more likely to feel anxious and depressed during COVID-19. People with a job that exposes them to high risk of infection are also more likely to have high levels of anxiety. Job loss also negatively affected people’s mental health.

“This is the first of a series of surveys,” explains Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist in the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. “We asked a series of questions, such as ‘To what extent are you worried about the impact of COVID-19 on your personal finances, about getting COVID-19?’”

Hamilton says these questions help link COVID-related events to the person’s mental health at the time. As data rolls in from proceeding surveys, she is getting a clearer picture of how events of the day are affecting people’s wellbeing.

People have been dramatically affected by social isolation and overall uncertainty of what is to come. 

“We have to be on the lookout for changes in how the population is adjusting,” Hamilton said. “As we re-open, what are people experiencing? Are anxiety levels going down? Are people drinking less? We’re hoping to see reductions in loneliness as people re-engage on a personal level with others.”

More information is needed on the mental health impact of COVID-19 in Canada. However, research from China offers insight into what we might expect. Just days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, scientists in China began surveying populations for psychological distress.

Cuiyan Wang, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at Huaibei Normal University, measured the connection between the pandemic and people’s mental states. Results of the  study are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Wang and colleagues collected data on how people were coping just two weeks after the initial outbreak in China, one day after the WHO declared the virus and international public emergency.

The study examined 1,210 respondents from 194 cities. Of this population, 53.8 per cent reported a moderate to severe psychological impact score. In a follow-up study a month later, Wang found that people felt less distressed as the government took action to contain the virus. Most people surveyed were concerned about their family contracting the virus. They also were more likely to report anxiety if they were feeling physical symptoms associated with the virus.

Jianyu Qiu and a team from the Shanghai Mental Health Center shed additional light on the link between COVID-19 and mental health in China. Their study, published in March, analyzed 52,730 survey responses. Of these, 53 per cent reported a moderate or severe psychological impact from COVID-19. Migrant workers experienced the highest levels of distress. This was due to concerns about virus exposure when returning to work, reduced work hours, and reduced income. People over the age of 60 were also among the most vulnerable to distress, as COVID-19 is particularly lethal to this age group. The study also found that women were vulnerable to distress and more likely to develop post-traumatic distress disorder. This suggests that COVID-19 will adversely affect the mental health of some groups more than others, particularly if they are more at risk of infection.

Hamilton’s research reveals that women, people with children, and people who have lost their job are taking the brunt of psychological distress in Ontario. But some populations remain unaccounted for.

So far in the province, 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care.  In Toronto, the five most-affected neighborhoods are more likely to have low-income, racialized, and immigrant populations. The pandemic is also adversely affecting homeless shelters’ ability to provide adequate support to people on the street—a population already vulnerable to physical and mental health conditions. More research is necessary to determine how these peoples’ mental health are affected by the increased risk of infection and death.