It's no secret that depression is often at its worst around the holidays. The constant messaging about family, prosperity, and happiness is heartwarming when it affirms your circumstances, but can be devastating when people are having a difficult time. Yesterday the CBC reported on the rise in rates of depression, calls to crisis lines, and suicides in Alberta this year. Falling oil prices have led to an employment crisis and the social impacts are predictably grave. Various stakeholders have called for increased funding for frontline agencies, but, as I will argue in this post, I don't feel that is ultimately more than a very short-term solution.
The impact of environment on mental health is often neglected, or at the very least it is not appropriately acknowledged. I find this rather frustrating, especially given the prevalence of solid research that substantiates that unemployment, poverty, poor job security, inadequate housing, etc all have large impacts on an individual's mental well-being. This is amplified signficantly when you add in other intersecting identities related to class, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
While, at least in the short term, providing more access to frontline services (for example counselling or a distress line) will have a measurable impact, the reality is that it's a question of firefighting when people are already at that point.
I'd advocate for an alternative policy that is designed to ensure that quality housing and stable employment are priorities. Moreover, we need to mitigate against income inequality as it is a principal driver and reinforcing factor of social inequality.
Programmes that advocate for living wage eliminate the problem of low-paid work (something that has been an ongoing discussion in Canada for the better part of a decade). Programmes like guaranteed income (recently adopted by Finland) help with impermanence in the job market. Higher personal taxes will help fund the first two programmes while also allowing the state to provide more frontline social services.
In the interim, we need to ensure that we do what we can to support those whose holiday seasons may be less bright than our own. Let's take care of one another.