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We are far from okay!

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I’m not going to sugarcoat things and state that this pandemic has been anything less than unsavory, disruptive and absolutely abysmal. I can actually think of other choice superlatives to use as adjectives, but I do want to keep the content of my addresses of a higher caliber for our members.

For over a year now, the entire world has had to cope with the constant and ever-changing daily onslaught that is the virus COVID-19.

At first, we really didn’t understand what this virus was or how we could contract it, and that was the cause of much stress and apprehension. Then, we moved into understanding how one can possibly be infected by this virus and the resultant effects it has on you physically. For a period of time, this seemed like the media’s sole focus, and with this constant bombardment, it only added to the ever-increasing societal anxiety. In this heightened state of angst, we as an industry, and as a community, then moved toward containing and mitigating the potential spread of COVID-19. Although the situation did seem dire throughout this last year, the construction industry rose to the challenge by continually adapting and modifying itself to try to return to some semblance of “normalcy.”

Although, on the surface, the construction industry has clearly led the way for all other industries to follow our example, there is one area that I believe we still need to tackle and address before we can truly say that we have COVID-19 under control: the state of our mental health.

In the process I have cited above, the action in question was accompanied with an equal, if not greater, psychological aspect that I do not believe construction has ever had to face in this magnitude. We are talking about a global event that has truly changed us as a species for the current and foreseeable future.
How do we, as a community, deal with the psychological strain and mental fatigue with which COVID-19 has burdened us?

When I talk about fatigue, I am not referring to physical exhaustion, which can be cured with a good night’s sleep. I am speaking of this shadow that has now permanently affected people in society and caused them to fear venturing into public once again. Or if they do endeavor to go outside, they are now in a guarded and distant state. A constant and repetitive “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” of hand washing, mask donning and sterilization just to feel at ease.

Or you can have those that fall into the opposite camp and just deny that there is a threat at all. They claim various conspiracies and would rather rail against some highly orchestrated clandestine plot by the world’s uber elite rich to decimate the population of the world.

Regardless of what side of the equation you may find yourself, everyone is simply trying to cope with this situation as best as they can, and they are reacting to this outside negative stimulus that is COVID-19 in whatever way to properly internalize it and deal with the overwhelming scale of the problem. Everyone is different, and everyone will deal with stress differently.

So, this is the crux of my discussion here today. If everyone is trying to deal with this situation, why not provide them with an array of tools, techniques and/or processes that they can follow to help each individual deal with this for their mental well-being?

Why bring this up now? Because the threat of COVID-19 may almost be gone, but the resultant impact of the stress it has caused for this last year may be immeasurable.

There are various studies that provide the causal link between social isolation and loneliness with a corresponding increase in suicides. Therefore, being lonely and socially isolated will have a direct impact on you physically due to the immense psychological impact it carries. Our entire construction community may still be plugging away at getting projects completed, but that is just a surface view.

How are people coping once they leave the jobsite? Are they attending the jobsite at all or working predominantly from home? How are they feeling? What is the state of their mental health? Do they need assistance?

From my perspective, our entire province has been under fluctuating degrees of self-imposed isolation for over a year. Unfortunately, the issue of mental health is not as clearly indicated as a cut or a bruise. You can’t see it, and unfortunately, those who may seem like they are unscathed by the stress may be suffering in silence. And it is only when a tragedy strikes that we all then try to unravel the conundrum that was that individual’s fragile state of mind.

Ultimately, this past year is not something that those with underlying mental illness can cope with on their own. And hence, this is why we, as a construction industry, need to support all of our workers. But please do not think that construction is alone in this fight. Every industry, every sector, and above all, every worker, is affected by COVID-19 in some form or another. Stress, anxiety, apprehension, depression, substance abuse and/or suicidal thoughts are all prevalent in relation to our current situation.

I believe that we can do more for one another.

I don’t currently have all of the answers on how we can help, but I do know that we can start by letting our people know that we are here to listen to them; that they are each valued and should they want to talk, there will not be any judgements made, but instead helping hands offered.

As I delve deeper into this topic in the coming months, I hope to personally obtain a better understanding of what more we can offer as an industry for our construction work families. I’ll definitely keep you all posted.
And lastly, if anyone needs to just talk…give me a call.

Should any of our members require any assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at giovanni@ogca.ca or via phone at 905.671.3969.


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