Opinion by EHN Guest Writer
Written by Andrew, guest writer at EHN, film buff, and crossword enthusiast.
As we optimistically, but cautiously, take our first steps toward normalcy, we must ask the following question: what will the new normal look like in Canada after COVID-19? From travel, to work, to mental health and addiction treatment—here’s a look at eight questions about our future.
(1) Could Hygeine Obsession Harm Our Mental Health?
While many of us in Canada may have had a rather lax attitude toward handwashing and touching surfaces in public before COVID-19, that has certainly changed. But what about those who suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) prior to COVID-19?
Even if the danger of spreading the virus wanes, individuals who suffer from OCD with handwashing or hygiene obsessions may see their symptoms worsen. Other forms of OCD that can be aggravated are hoarding behaviours, such as stockpiling a collection of outbreak necessities, including masks, soap, and disinfectants.
We may also see a marked increase in the prevalence and symptoms of health anxiety—more commonly known by its former name, hypochondria). This can include maladaptive behaviours like frequent and unnecessary medical consultations or avoiding healthcare even if genuinely ill. On a larger scale can lead to mistrust of public authorities and scapegoating of particular populations or groups.
(2) How Will People Travel?
After months of social isolation and stay-home orders, many of us are itching to travel again—especially after having to cancel many spring and summer plans. However, the world of travel may never be the same again.
For the foreseeable future, anxieties will be high. The once-comical sight of a passenger wiping down a seat with disinfectant will become commonplace, wearing masks will likely be strictly enforced, and dramatic scenes of pushback from passengers are inevitable.
A move toward touchless travel will be swift, with more hand and document scanners. Be prepared for longer lines and wait times, and even more invasive health screenings, such as body temperature measurement and infrared scanning. And just because Canada may have COVID-19 under control, the situation on the ground is different from country to country, which will complicate international travel.
People who must travel for addiction or mental health treatment may want to consider facilities that are within driving distance or consider online treatment programs, if new travel guidelines increase the risk of triggering relapse or other severe mental health symptoms.
(3) Where Will Canadians Work?
Many employers in Canada have asked their employees to work from home as part of their COVID-19 response. Many of us have mixed feelings about it. Some have enjoyed life without commuting, while others miss the structure and social aspects of office culture. But whether we like it or not, working from home will become more common since companies have recognized the advantage of moving from expensive rental spaces to a work-from-home business model.
This will certainly affect the mental health of some employees who feel isolated and find no distinction between work life and home life. But another troubling concern also looms: addiction.
Working from home presents more opportunity and more triggers for using drugs and alcohol. According to a study from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, two in ten Canadians reported that their alcohol consumption has increased during stay-at-home orders, due to boredom (49%), stress (44%), and loneliness (19%).
(4) Will More Addiction Treatment Go Online?
Many of us have relied on video chat to stay connected with friends, family, and work, but it has also been essential for support group meetings for addiction treatment.
There has been one, unexpected, positive side effect of stay-home orders: many self-employed Canadians have taken this time to seek treatment for mental health and addiction online. But how effective is online mental health treatment? This was a question being asked and researched long before COVID-19.
A 2018 Yale University study compared the effectiveness of online and in-person treatment programs. At the beginning of the study, all participants met clinical diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. Participants were divided into three different groups. Each group of participants received only one type of therapy during the study: standard counselling, one-on-one therapy, or an online treatment program. By the end of the study period, some individuals got better and no longer met the clinical criteria for a substance use disorder. However, the percentage of participants who got better differed significantly between groups:
- Standard counselling: 43% of people in the group got better
- One-on-one counselling: 52% of people in the group got better
- Online treatment program: 67% of people in the group got better
These results suggest that online treatment programs can be as effective, and in some cases more effective than in-person treatment. The authors of the study observed that the online treatment program had lower drop-out rates than the other therapy types, likely due to the convenience of online treatment.
(5) What Are the Human Costs of Increased Reliance on Video Chat?
What role will video chat platforms like Zoom have in our lives going forward and how will they affect our mental health. These technologies have undoubtedly kept us connected in some unexpected ways: yoga classes, dance parties, and music performances. But then again, there’s also asynchronicity, interrupted connections, and awkward silences. There also exist measurable negative effects on physical and mental health outcomes.
“Zoom fatigue” is caused by the stress of seeing people as video thumbnails, the physical discomfort of sitting for hours at a time, eye strain from staring unblinkingly at a screen, and the need to be constantly “on.” And add to that the privacy concerns around a relatively new technology.
In Psychology Today, Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D. suggests a few tips for beating Zoom fatigue:
- Switch it up with a voice-only call from time to time
- Schedule breaks between meetings to stretch and get some fresh air
- Create very different moods and spaces for your after-work home.
(6) Will Telemedicine Dominate Healthcare?
Telemedicine allows patients to connect with distantly located specialists, save time on simple appointments like prescription refills, and, for those with limited mobility, avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor’s office. For the past five years, telemedicine has been on the rise in Canada and COVID-19 has caused a further surge in demand. Is this the way of the future? And how do healthcare professionals feel about it?
The Canadian government recently announced a $240-million investment in virtual healthcare, suggesting that telemedicine will continue to grow in Canada. However, some medical professionals have expressed concerns. One danger is that the reduced perceptibility of visual signs and symptoms of disease in a video-chat examination compared to an in-person examination could increase the rate of diagnostic errors made by doctors. Another risk is that, due to the low effort required for video-chat appointments compared to in-person appointments, individuals who have health anxiety (but who are not actually sick) might make more frequent unnecessary medical appointments, thus wasting healthcare system resources.
(7) How Will People Satisfy Their Human Need for Physical Connection?
Physical connection is among the things that people are missing the most during COVID-19. Even people who previously took social gatherings for granted are now likely to greet the new world with a new-found appreciation for physical contact. Hopefully, we will figure out ways of connecting physically with each other again, as is essential for human health and wellbeing.
Many people in Canada have been forced to remain at home due to COVID-19 and have been unable to see their families in person for a long time. However, individuals who have less positive family relationships may have taken this opportunity to process and recover from family-related trauma. They may soon be faced with the challenge of re-engaging with their families. Some people may reflect and decide that their happiness and mental health requires continuing to avoid contact with certain family members or relatives.
(8) What Will the New Economy Look Like?
Once physical distancing restrictions are lifted, we will emerge into a changed Canada. Some small businesses will have survived, others will have vanished. Amazon just reported record earnings. Many Canadians will return to work. Others won’t have jobs to go back to. How will Canada and the rest of the world economy evolve after COVID-19?
Unemployed individuals will likely accumulate more debt. A cautious population may spend less on luxuries. Many industries will continue to struggle, even as physical distancing is relaxed. Many restaurants and bars will reopen, but with significantly restricted capacity. Retail businesses may suffer as customers will more carefully consider non-essential purchases. Online shopping is likely to continue increasing.
In any event, it may take years before Canada’s economic health returns to a level similar to before COVID-19. The federal government will likely continue to incur debt for the foreseeable future.
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 Banerjee, Dr Debanjan. The other side of COVID-19: Impact on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and hoarding. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151248/
 Rajkumar, Ravi Philip. OVID-19 and mental health: A review of the existing literature. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151415/
 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. 25% of Canadians (aged 35-54) are drinking more while at home due to COVID-19 pandemic; cite lack of regular schedule, stress and boredom as main factors
 Degges-White Ph.D., Suzanne. Zoom Fatigue: Don’t Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/202004/zoom-fatigue-dont-let-video-meetings-zap-your-energy
 Lemos da Luz, Protásio. Telemedicine and the Doctor/Patient Relationship. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6684176/
 Cochrane, David. A crisis like no other: Canada’s finances could take years to recover from the pandemic recession. Available at: