For nearly the past three years, COVID-19 has and continues to make an immense impact on how we as a society function. Every single aspect of our lives has been affected: work, school, socializing, health care, appointments, travel, business and education. COVID-19 will continue to impact all aspects of our lives for years to come. The lack of normalcy has made this an extremely stressful, uncertain time for everyone.
However, for the first time since before the pandemic, we can look ahead and see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is imperative that we keep supporting those that are still being impacted. In particular, we must provide support to those in at-risk and underprivileged communities.
Underprivileged and at-risk communities have been significantly affected. At-risk communities already face an 8.7 per cent increase in stress (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2022). The elderly, low-income families, recent immigrants, disabled people, those awaiting medical procedures, those who are medically fragile, people who have lost their businesses, the homeless, Indigenous and First Nations communities and students are some of the different communities that have been impacted most. This is by no means an exhaustive list and many other communities have also been affected.
This pandemic has had detrimental impacts on the social and emotional well-being of seniors. Seniors have a higher risk of developing severe illness if they contract COVID-19. Most of them reported experiencing feelings of loneliness and sadness due to self-isolation and being away from friends and family. The inability to go to social events, attend exercise classes, and meet up with friends has made some seniors feel detached from the world. (Seniors First BC Blog, November 2020). Programs designed specifically to help the elderly overcome these challenges are needed. A support system that provides meals and care packages delivered to those living alone or who may be ill with COVID-19 should be instituted. Programs to help the elderly get to and from medical appointments would also be helpful.
Assistance with weekly shopping or learning how to order groceries on-line would be another good program as many elderly people are still not comfortable with technology. I believe in the implementation of programs to help seniors feel less isolated, since many of their programs were shut down due to COVID, and even now that things are starting to open up many still are hesitant to get out and mingle with others. Daily phone calls, daily checks on your neighbour and pairing seniors with other seniors living alone are a few more ideas I have to help seniors.
We also need to develop programs that encourage seniors to stay physically active in a safe environment, whether at home or outside, which is important for their overall mental and physical well-being.
Creating safe social environments is a must as well. Connecting with family and friends via telephone, text, video chat and social media. Visiting a museum or an art gallery online. Learning a new hobby or activity online. Many of these things are online and as such educating the elderly how to use technology is a must so they can access these services.
Due to the limitations of on-line school, low-income families and recent immigrants have faced many difficulties trying to keep their children caught up with the education curriculum. Several factors including lack of internet access, lack of computers to sign on to for on-line school, language barriers to be able to help their children with on-line schoolwork, no access to breakfast food programs or after-school homework clubs have created huge health, social and learning gaps in many children’s education. I believe the following initiatives are required to help address these gaps. Providing a full school experience for all students that includes extra curriculars like clubs, band and field trips; expanding tutoring support to fill gaps in learning due to the challenges of online learning and improve in class learning; teaching students the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow; hiring more support staff so more students can get extra help to fill in the gaps; increase the number of free mental health support programs for students; funding for programs that target specific at-risk and underprivileged communities to build cultural self-awareness and cultural literacy should be implemented; initiating programs that help students explore and examine their own identity culture, beliefs, values and attitudes, giving them a sense of belonging and perhaps decrease the dropout rate.
At the same time, programs that teach teachers and assistant teaching staff how to engage with the students and their families would be wonderful. They would be able to learn more about their identities, cultures, beliefs, traditions and values which would be helpful on so many levels. Funding to create culturally relevant school supports, inclusive clubs and safe spaces (protective factors) should also be a focus.
Indigenous and First Nations communities also have been hit hard by COVID-19. Indigenous peoples do not have equal access to health services compared to the general Canadian population due to geography, isolation, health-system deficiencies and a shortage of medical staff. Due to the isolation of many communities, it can be difficult for residents to access health services only available in larger urban areas. Indigenous peoples have a life expectancy of 14 years less than non-Indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities often lack access to healthy, affordable food choices.
The following are ways in which this at-risk group needs help. Indigenous communities need better in-community health care support; better access to health-care professionals and services, either in person or remotely through the Internet; access to affordable healthy food choices. These changes would improve the health of Indigenous individuals.
Political leaders also need to target funding at those who have lost their jobs or lost businesses due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. With the recent closure of the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB), many people who were receiving the CERB are no longer eligible. Although it is not sustainable for the government to offer continued monetary support indefinitely, creating programming tailored toward helping these individuals get their life “back on track” would create long-lasting, self-sufficient change. By providing help with finding new, equal-paying jobs with adequate training, affordable housing and assistance in navigating the post-COVID world, we would see drastic changes in the lives of the millions of Canadians who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic.
Social programming not only creates self-sufficient change, but it also encourages other members of the community to contribute to the change. This can be thought of as a ripple effect of positivity: If you are to see someone else make a difference, you too will be inspired to follow that example.