Good morning and welcome!
I hope you have had a chance to be immersed in the beauty and wonders of our city as it transitions to winter. I have so enjoyed the brilliant orange and yellow colors, with a few sightings of red. And I just love the way the wind whips through the trees and frees the leaves to wander about through the fields. Gorgeous!
The fall season also brings a heightened risk of illness, like colds and flus. We have become accustomed to bundling up, taking more vitamins and staying inside more often during this time of the year. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to pay even more attention to our physical health. We’ve become more attentive to what we touch and how close we stand to others. We’ve improved our handwashing and space sanitizing routines. We’ve changed the way we shop, work, vacation, communicate, and celebrate. It’s been a difficult and challenging road but we’ve persevered because we are passionate about our health and our community’s health.
What about our mental health? How has the self-isolation, social distancing, and mask-wearing requirements affected our sense of belonging and connection? And how has this, in turn, affected our physical health?
Human beings are hard-wired for connection. Having meaningful, healthy, and reliable ties to others allows us to feel a sense of belonging, value, and safety. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, we all need to connect, although the frequency and duration of connection may differ from one person to another.
There’s no doubt that social connection affects our mental AND physical health. Research has shown that reliable, healthy social support – the connection we have to individuals, groups, and community for assistance in practical, emotional, and informational ways – improves our use of coping strategies, resilience to stress and mental illness, and reduces mortality. On the other hand, prolonged social isolation has been shown to increase risk for heart disease, depression, dementia and death1. Though quality and quantity of social support are both important, quality is a more reliable predictor of good health2. Even one good, trustworthy, reliable friend can make a difference to our quality of life – physically and emotionally.
How has your social support strengthened, stabilized, or suffered over the past eight months? How has your social connectivity impacted your physical health? Have you been having more aches and pains? Feelings of loneliness or hopelessness? Feelings of vulnerability in getting your financial, physical, and/or emotional needs met? Or, have you been feeling more energized, positive, resilient as a result of more meaningful, closer connections with others?
The folks we work with are at an increased risk for social isolation. Even before the pandemic, people with disabilities have historically experienced social discrimination and exclusion resulting in extreme isolation. Add on a mandated quarantine and the people we work with may be overwhelmed with loneliness, inaccessibility, confusion, and fear.
Now, more than ever, we all need to reach out. Creatively and eagerly, we need to reach out for the benefit of our health and the health of others. Phone calls, texts, videochats, social media, letters (yes, Canada Post still delivers actual letters!), social distancing driveway visits, and/or social distancing park visits/walks – whatever works to maximize social connection while minimizing virus transmission – is of vital importance right now. We don’t yet know the long-term effects of mandated self-isolation and quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic. But doing what we do know helps, I hope, can help offset any negative effects that pop up.
I’ve included a link to Therapist Aid’s Social Support Inventory below. People can use this inventory to learn more about the value of social support and assess their own personal support networks. Assessing the diversity and breadth of social support in our lives every once in a while is important so that we can make intentional changes to the quantity and quality of our social networks and promote our mental and physical health. Kinda like a yearly physical exam 🙂
I’ve also included a link to a resource from Canadian Mental Health (Hamilton) that provides lists of websites and apps for social connection and mental wellness, as well as tips for staying well, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’ve been struggling with isolation and social disconnection, take a look at the listed resources below. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to your CASS supervisor and/or EFAP provider (info below). No need to be ashamed, guilty, or fearful about asking for help – this pandemic has been hard on everyone and reaching out to resources for additional strength and resiliency is an act of courage and self-nurturance. After all, we are people supporting people and we can do a better job at supporting people when we also support ourselves 🙂
Therapist Aid Social Support Inventory: available at https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/social-support
A list of online resources for coping with COVID-19 from CMH Hamilton: https://cmhahamilton.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Online-Resources-for-Mental-Wellness-and-Social-Connection.pdf
CASS EFAP Employee and Family Assistance service access: 1-800-663-1142
TTY for the hearing or speech impaired: 1-888-384-1152
For more information, please visit: https://homewoodhealth.com
You can also access free virtual counselling, provided by physicians with a special interest in mental health and charged to your AHC card, from Owl Pod at: www.owlpod.ca
Especially for People we work with
As mentioned above, folks with disabilities and/or mental illness are at an increased risk for isolation generally, and especially now with the social distancing and self-isolation requirements. As a support worker or caregiver, you have an important role to play in helping people connect to people for social, emotional, and practical support. During your work with folks this week, download and work through Therapist Aid’s Social Support questionnaire to identify the strong, healthy relationships people have in their lives. Celebrate these connections and talk with folks about ways the relationship can be strengthened. Also help people identify the areas in which they are lacking social support and identify ways to bridge those gaps. It’s a tough time to connect and meet with new people, given the social distancing requirements, but there are ways. Take a look at the online resources document (links above) and check out the variety of online meeting spaces, apps, etc. to see if any opportunities arise for folks there. Be creative, and good luck!