May 22, 2020 – From my experience in the mental health housing industry, I know that a good state of mental health is vital when it comes to our well-being, for our team members and for residents alike. Personal and community interaction lends to sense of belonging and its positive effects help individuals live longer. Even before COVID-19, loneliness was a growing public health concern and one of its main causes was social isolation. With many of our vulnerable population coming from a place of homelessness, shelters or hospital, having a link to the community was vital. Now with the global pandemic, the restrictions surrounding the coronavirus are threatening the short and long term effects on the mental health of the population at large. Residents of care homes are no exception.

From the time I started following the virus outbreak back in January 2020, I predicted that the mental health of our residents would be severely impacted by strict measures that I was implementing across SL communities and knew that I must guide our management and staff to recognize symptoms of mental health deterioration in its initial phases. I house a high risk, vulnerable population with existing mental health issues where support services and community interaction is key towards their rehabilitation.

The Supportive Living concept is built on a harm reduction model that acknowledges the presence of contributing factors to chronic homelessness, while mitigating the risks that these factors present. We realized that the imposing of quarantine and lockdown measures for the protection of our residents could trigger heavier consumption of drugs and alcohol. As a result, we now have new protocols in place to monitor alcohol consumption and mitigate the harm that it may pose to our residents.

Quarantine restrictions and social distancing that have been imposed on a global level are adding stress and panic amongst the masses which is leading to increased mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. At SupportiveLiving.ca, we needed to ensure that support services had access to our residents despite shutdown measures and that protocols were set into place to keep everyone safe in a practical and sustainable manner.

According to an article written in CBC news: “An epidemiologist says social isolation could lead to a range of mental health issues as people face the prospect of living under the current COVID-19 restrictions for months.” As with all of us, the uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last and how it will play out has increased anxiety all around. In the next few months, I have realized that we must adapt as a society and accept that this is the ‘new normal.’

In the housing industry, we are presented with challenges as we work in quarantine, behind the scenes and across the frontlines, striving to safe-guard our vulnerable populations. Therefore, my goal is to continue to research and stay informed about how we can take care of our own mental health which in turn will allow us to help our residents and communities. Through our resident engagement programs, we will continue to keep SL communities engaged to take their minds off the current COVID crisis.

A community-based mindset is essential for pulling through these tough times. As humans, we are biologically hard-wired to forge connections with others however our instinct is to think only about ourselves. We need to do what is best for everyone so that we ensure everyone is prepared. I have implemented many protocols within our homes to prevent community spread. In order to maintain these protocols though, I rely on our community agency partners to work together as a community to “save” each other by thinking of each other.

When the best treatment for mental health issues within our vulnerable population is social and community interaction, we enter a time where isolation is not the ideal situation. However, as an organization, we continue creating new ideas to offer safe solutions to house our residents, and support our Front Line staff and agency partners.

Let’s continue to work as a community so that everyone can endure the foreseeable with healthy mental health practices and ways to be together, apart.

Be well and stay well.

Written by Vishal Chityal
CEO, President and Founder
SupportiveLiving.ca