The pandemic is hurting some more than others. How to address the hidden harms of COVID-19
Everyone is facing this pandemic differently.
Although we are all impacted in one way or another — the effects on certain people and populations are greater than on others. There are many hidden impacts on our lives, and the shock of COVID-19 is felt by some in ways that are unimaginable to others.
Children are a prime example of this reality.
Children in most provinces have not been attending school and are no longer receiving the daily support from teachers and their larger social circle. Children who live in poverty are not receiving the necessary meals offered through breakfast or lunch programs. Women, children and families with lived experiences of abuse may be living at increased risk during the pandemic.
Using a moral lens and a dose of empathy to guide us has never been more important.
Even for children who are not generally considered "at risk," they are still vulnerable and feeling the social and isolation effects and simply want to play with their friends. This reality can have disastrous long-term effects that we cannot even begin to fathom at this point.
Mental health has also been a growing concern.
Early evidence shows that anxiety and depression are on the rise. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions are especially vulnerable right now, especially since social or other community supports are difficult to access.
Loss of income, financial stress, worries about the future, social isolation, demands of trying to work at home during a crisis, combined with other stressors — all contribute to an increase in mental health struggles. Such direct, indirect and potential long-term harms must be balanced against the benefits of public health measures.
Empathy as our compass
As restrictions start to loosen we all need to avoid judging or shaming others. We need to remember that the hidden impacts of this pandemic changes based on one's life circumstances.
This means that we need to lean in to our shared universal experience, while also recognizing that the effects vary from one person, family or community to another. Empathy toward others and recognition that we are all feeling the effects differently can help lead us through.
Although expertise and public health measures are available, there is no rulebook on how to handle this. Public health officials, epidemiologists and policy makers are all attempting to address the effects and minimize the provincial, national and global impacts.
In many cases, quick decisions must be made with limited evidence available on whether the proposed approach will work. On top of this, knowledge about COVID-19 and cases continues to change. For these reasons we need to continually assess whether the decisions made that affect children and other vulnerable populations are achieving more benefit than harm.
Balancing risks and benefits
Public health measures must be continually assessed in the light of emerging evidence in order to achieve an ethical balance.
Clearly we need public health measures to address the direct physical harm that COVID-19 can have on our lives. At the same time, we also need to address the hidden or indirect harms that are being felt by many individuals and populations right now.
Children, individuals experiencing homelessness, unemployed families, and others must not be disproportionately affected. Using a moral lens and a dose of empathy to guide us has never been more important.