The usual human (and governmental) tendency is to weather a storm without planning for the aftermath. It’s like drinking too much alcohol without taking the necessary precautions to avoid a hangover. We may be in for a heck of a hangover. Now’s the time to take action to minimize the pain.

I am not an economist so I will not try to predict the economic fallout. But I will tell you that with every downturn in the economy, there is a corresponding increase in negative health outcomes. People struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table do not have the time, money, or strength to eat properly, exercise, or take their medications the way they’re supposed to. Expect health care needs to increase post pandemic.

Similarly, our already overstretched psychological support system is going to be even more in demand. It was already tough to see a psychologist or a psychiatrist pre-pandemic. Depression, loneliness, and other psychological problems increased as people tried to cope. We’re going to have to accommodate that increase.

The good news is that the pandemic forced us to experiment with novel ways of providing care. Telemedicine, while not perfect, has made a huge difference and increased the flexibility and reach of many professions. Health care, including psychological services, is one of them. I anticipate it will continue to play an important role in the post-pandemic health care system.

Patients, by the way, weren’t the only ones to suffer from the psychological impact of coping with the pandemic. It’s been estimated that approximately 4,000 nurses have left the profession in Quebec. We already had a severe nursing shortage. A study in British Medical Journal Open (BMJ Open) reports that approximately 2/3rds of surveyed doctors had symptoms of burnout. Aside from the emotional cost and the fact that many of these doctors voiced a plan to leave the profession or reduce their workload, burnt out health care professionals do not provide the same level of care. They are more likely to make medical mistakes. With health care provider burnout, everyone suffers — the healthcare provider as well as their patients.

You’ve heard in these last months, how reduced access has resulted in fewer diseases being diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion and a backlog of surgeries that may take years to overcome. In the meantime, the Minister of Health is demanding millions of dollars in cost savings. Where will these savings come from? Who will suffer?

What to do? Take care of yourselves and those you love. Remember that we aren’t out of the woods yet.

As demonstrated by Habs’ head coach Dominique Ducharme, it takes a minimum of two weeks after you’ve been vaccinated to see a maximum protective effect. So, until scientifically validated levels of population immunization are attained, keep your distance, wash your hands and, in the appropriate settings, wear a mask. Take your medications. Follow up with your family doctor.

Before you go to bed, find three things, big or small, to be grateful for and say thank you when people help. Go take a walk. Consider volunteering or donate blood. None of these costs very much, but they all work.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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