11 November 2020 – Craig Maguire, Mental Health Therapist
IMPRESSIONS Family Counselling Services Inc.
Over the past 10 months or so, with the introduction of the covid-19 pandemic, and all its relevant and pertinent effects on everyday life, there has no doubt been a steady and progressive worsening of conditions discussed with me through my professional practice. With rents so high, incomes and revenue streams either severely reduced or eliminated altogether, and a gradual deepening of personal debt (as families have fallen behind on many months of utility, phone, and other basic necessities and their monthly costs), the degree to which depression, anxiety and heightened distress has become unlike anything I have ever witnessed over my 34+ year career as a professional mental health clinician.
In such times of hopelessness and unfulfilled faith of better days to come, many express their genuine gratitude for the well-wishes, prayers and constant encouragement they receive from family and friends and the promise that hope is on the horizon. There comes a time however, when the harsh realities faced by numerous families can no longer be overshadowed by hope and prayers of better things to come but rather, by the dismal, inescapable and debilitating conditions now being lived. Many families are living in their vehicles – personal belongings, kids, pets, and a lost sense of anything about to change for the better anytime soon.
Despite some people’s opinions that you “reap what you sew”, the truth for many of these individuals and families is that they did not put themselves in these circumstances now experienced. Although every family has their own story of what has happened to bring them to this dismal state of living, the reality is that, by all accounts, they simply are victims of circumstance and are no more to blame for their condition than they are to blame for poor weather. Additionally, with a flurry of government and social assistance programs available to assist those in financial distress, the most common public opinion is that there is no just reason or cause for anyone to be homeless if they choose not to be. Here’s the reality though folks. Good, decent, hard-working, law-abiding and committed individuals and families are indeed now experiencing such hardships and have fallen through the cracks of these numerous programs and services as “ineligible” or “unentitled” to the financial supports they promote.
Our local evening news, over the past few nights, has reported that, with very minimal margins, almost all calls now for police assistance directly involve mental health issues for which they are often not equipped to manage effectively. This is a condition which I predicted many months ago would likely occur as the continuation of “bad times” only gradually became worse for many individuals and families coping with this pandemic-era infractions that have contributed to their impending demise. Again, the mention of “hope and faith” prevails as many of these families are supported by others who attempt to encourage these families not to give up or feel hopeless, regardless of how bad their situation may or has become.
The truth however, is that so many people are indeed suffering right now. There is no argument or embellishment in this statement. Despite whatever financial support programs may be available, these families have not been fortunate enough to have these supports provided to them in a manner for which it has truly assisted them in long-term stability and subsidence. Prior to the pandemic, we already knew of homeless veterans, elderly eating dog food and having to choose between paying rent and bills or purchasing their vital medications, the mental health crisis affecting front-line service professionals all around the World, and an overwhelmed set of systems simply ill-equipped to adequately and sufficiently address all these and many more conditions of hardship and distress. Although the current pandemic is one which certainly no one could have foreseen or prepared for, the result has been an almost immediate exacerbation of the pre-covid conditions to those now being witnessed and reaching severe levels of incredible and unsustainable suffering on a Global scale.
So, when all is said and done, what role or meaningful purpose does “hope” and “faith” play in times such as these? At what point is it reasonable and realistic that after long-standing conditions of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and so on, that people may succumb to these conditions and lose their ability for hope and faith in place of the cold and harsh realities for which they live each day? These questions are important to ask as I hear so often from various conversations that solutions exist, and although many may be difficult to find or take a long time to acquire, there is “always” hope as long as one takes the time, effort and elbow-grease needed in order to achieve their goals. Here’s the point I wish to make, on behalf of these many families experiencing such devastating hardships.
The following are some examples shared with me of personal experiences lived by many families today. It is, by far, not an exhaustive list however, clearly represents the difficulty in conducting one’s usual affairs and responsibilities in a manner normally accustomed. Consider these examples:
No phone, e-mail or other forms of communications so unable to apply for or manage contact with prospective employers for advertised job postings;
Lack of financial resources leaving them unable to sufficiently manage laundry needs, hygiene needs, food needs, fuel for vehicle (if they have one), printing resumes, purchasing medications, or buying work clothes required. These, and many more, as well as no financial means in which to drive to or take public transit to and from work each day and certainly no funds to provide for sufficient and appropriate child care for dependent children;
Diminishing personal resources (of all kinds) permitting them to function adequately or attend support locations to access assistance given no viable means of local transportation;
Arising medical health concerns due to colds, flu and other common ailments with no access to common medications and over-the-counter aides to relieve symptoms; and,
As resources become exhausted, and no plausible solutions have materialized over time, the presence of hope and faith are often no longer considerations in the minds of individuals who have lost everything with no promise in the horizon of real and meaningful opportunities.
So, if only for one brief moment, I ask you – the READER – to put yourself in their shoes and consider what and how you would accommodate such conditions of hardship. If this is too difficult to imagine, then try this. Imagine yourself as a mental health therapist who is working with this family. Realizing and appreciating that this family has attempted to access every resource and opportunity available, what words of encouragement to enlist “hope” and “faith” would you share with this family?
STOP! If you immediately started to think of possible answers and solutions to this family’s dilemma, then respectfully, you have missed the bus before the engine was even turned over. It is not up to therapists to find or offer answers and solutions to anyone in which to “solve” their personal issues and conditions in living. Rather, a true therapist serves to assist and support individuals and families in recognizing their strengths, respecting their weaknesses and accepting their realities in working towards and effectively managing the conditions and circumstances which are negatively affecting them. So let’s try the question one more time ok. What “intervention: would you provide a family experiencing such hardships and distress? Again, I’m sure it is not a matter of quick or easy answers to this question. And that, my friends, is exactly my point. If we, as outsiders and removed from these hardships personally, cannot find plausible opportunities for renewed hope and faith, opportunities and promise, confidence and resilience, then how is it possible for those directly experiencing such drastic suffering to do so with any more clarity and resolve than we were able? Naturally, there really is no simple or right answer to this question at all however, it is worth acknowledging the helplessness and even hopelessness that, in that brief moment, you experienced just thinking about the situation.
My purpose in writing this article is not simply to highlight the pain and suffering so many are experiencing today. Rather, it is to hopefully create an awareness for most that there does exist circumstances and conditions which lie outside anyone’s influence or control for which severe hardships can and are being realized. These folks, as stated earlier, are upstanding residents of our Communities and have never ever been afraid of hard work, persistence or the common-sense behaviours required to adequately meet all their personal responsibilities and financial accountabilities – that is, until now. Yet, for example, there are some landlords who claim their tenants are literally the worst people on Earth while failing to recognize that, realistically, their tenants cannot pay their rent if they simply have no money at all. This statement is not intended to represent all landlords as callous and uncaring, or for that matter, all tenants as fine and upstanding citizens who faithfully pay their rent. None-the-less, it does certainly represent a fair number of examples provided to me, in my professional role as a mental health therapist.
Additionally, my purpose in writing this article is for something far more purposeful. While it is true that we cannot save everyone from the trials and tribulations of life, for those of us who know of family or friends who are experiencing serious and debilitating financial circumstances affecting their daily living, I encourage you to consider the following possible actions of purposeful engagements. These are only suggestions, for your consideration, and are based on direct feedback from those families actually living in these conditions today. These suggestions are:
1. Instead of concentrating on offering words of encouragement for better days ahead, or religious faiths that will see a miracle of solutions soon delivered to them, consider offering them assurances that they are making sound judgements, accessing appropriate resources and ensuring their eventual success in realizing positives that will slowly and eventually lead to their sufficient escape of these deplorable conditions. Affirm, validate and support these individuals in this manner rather than try to convince them that solutions will soon befall them and all will be better once again. As a dear friend of mine always says, “the sun will come up tomorrow and it will be a new day of hope and promise”. Again, this is not the reality that many people live today and regardless if the sun rises or not, has absolutely no bearing on the continued suffering to be endured tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
2. Please recognize and appreciate that for many of these families experiencing such distress, they are neither proud or satisfied with the conditions they now face. As most will quickly share with you, there is absolutely nothing more difficult, demoralizing and humiliating than having to ask others for help. In the case where friends are approached for this assistance, fears of losing their friendships and being viewed as “abusing” the friendships often lead many to never request assistance or support in the first place. As a child, I was taught about the value of “TRUE” friendship. My suggestion here is simply this. For Heaven sake, if you know or believe a friend of yours is experiencing extreme hardship and despair, please don’t wait to see if they ever reach out to you for assistance. Be a TRUE friend and approach them. Trust me when I say, they will never forget your kind consideration and thoughtful concern for their well being. In fact, chances are that you will probably never truly be aware of how touched and appreciative they are that someone actually thought enough of them to ask them if they needed help. This does NOT need to be financial support but rather, simply being available to say to someone, “How are you doing? Are you ok?” is so valuable and uplifting that your actions, in this manner, will do more good than a thousand therapists ever could realize. And, if by chance, you can afford to offer a few dollars to help this family out, or offer some food, clothing or other resources, then by all means, step up, be the friend you believe yourself to be, and offer these things readily and without the need for someone to come "on hand and knee" begging for your support.
3. Listen, listen and listen some more!! You are not expected to come up with solutions but please, don’t automatically believe that you have all the answers to solve this family’s problems in living. Respectfully, these families do not lack in intelligence and knowledge. They do however lack in the ability to provide for themselves and their family in meaningful and sufficient ways. Sometimes the best and most meaningful thing you can offer is to listen and to allow others to share their stories. It can be especially difficult for many adults especially as they must remain strong and prevent their emotions from being overtly noticeable by their children and other family members. Despite this, it is such an overwhelming relief and peace of mind when able to finally speak with someone openly and honestly about their experiences without fear of judgement, animosity, and/or harshness. We all have friends we can converse with about the weather, politics, the state of the World, and so on. I encourage YOU however to be a TRUE friend and be willing to speak about and listen to others on serious matters affecting their overall well-being and that of their family. Surprise someone today – pick up the phone and try it – I promise you that you feel exhilarated by the experience and your friend will be deeply moved by your heart-felt compassion and concern.
4. If you are the type of person who is typically quick to make assumptions and judgements of others and have a variety of opinions and convictions toward such conditions of hardship and distress, please recognize that your public posts on social media and other platforms only serve to demonstrate your lack of compassion for others and your self-centred (and often arrogant) disposition in believing you, and only you, know what you’re talking about and have all the answers. Please, for your sake, and others as well, stop this behaviour. You are only belittling yourself and contributing to a senseless and callous attack on others that serves no beneficial purpose or advantage for anyone. Instead, be willing to learn from others and their experiences. It’s ok to ask questions or to inquire on whether on conditions people are experiencing, but what isn’t needed ever is someone who has never experienced such conditions to pretend they know what is best for others and what, where and how they went wrong and deserve the hardships they are now living. You are better than this – be better than this. If you cannot, then please (and respectfully), simply keep your hurtful and demeaning opinions to yourself.
5. Lastly, be an active participant in the advocacy, support, encouragement and engagements that directly influence and affect the lives of others who are less fortunate than yourself. The more people understand that these condition can befall anyone, and at anytime, needs to be openly vocalized so others may evaluate their personal circumstances and plausible methods of possible financial stability in the event of dire and debilitating conditions being realized in their family. Most importantly, where-ever and when ever you can actually encourage and promote humility, love, acceptance, support and advocacy for others less fortunate, you are giving the greatest gift you could ever offer – that of yourself! People caring about people is where it needs to be at these days and, in light of the ever-increasing number of families facing such deplorable conditions in living, this need will only continue to grow and grow uncontrollably. Be a beacon of light and BE the hope and faith you speak of so often. Words are very helpful and hold much value to others but your actions will, by far, carry more hope and faith than your words ever could.
Before concluding this article, there remains one (at least one) more topic that I believe is imperative to touch upon. More and more people today have had their lives touched directly by suicide and the loss of a close friend or loved family member. Putting all religious and spiritual convictions aside for a brief moment, please know that suicide is an individual’s last cry for help. No one truly wants to die – either by their hand or at the hand of anyone else. Unfortunately, for some, when all hope and faith finally disappears completely, these individuals accept that there is no way out of their situation and conditions. With no hope or clue of what to do next, where to turn, who to reach out to, or how to positively affect their conditions, they are susceptible to believing that their life no longer holds meaning or value of any significance. Their pain and suffering is greater than their will and tolerance to accept one more day of this continued anguish. For most, they are not quitters or the easily frustrated but rather, and again, are actually quite intelligent and resourceful individuals. When these individuals reach such a debilitating state of mind, it is reasonable to conclude that they will start considering “alternatives” for which they can again claim control of their life, even if it is only in planning and actioning their death. Suicide is NEVER a solution, EVER! With this said, everyone has the ability to reach their breaking point and succumb to never-before thought of or considered actions of such a drastic and final resolve. Although it is true that many will follow this unfortunate action of desperation to end their pain and suffering, you could be directly responsible for SAVING a life if only you had thought to reach out sooner to them.
We are all busy, all affected by the covid-19 pandemic (in one way or another) and all have our own life and family to worry about and support. No one expects anyone to ever put their own needs, and that of their family, behind the needs of others, whether it be friends, family or complete strangers. With this said, compassion and empathy are needed in our Communities, now more than ever before, and yes, each of us can have a most profound and positively influential effect in the lives of others simply by being available and accessible, willing to listen, and always… accepting people as they are and treating them with dignity, respect and integrity. Who knows, maybe the life you save today will, in turn, be someone who saves a life tomorrow. Again, be the change, be the hope and promise you routinely encourage and, above all else, be a friend that others can truly value and appreciate the “special GIFT” that only you can personally deliver – the gift of TRUE friendship and the validation that they so desperately need and have considered long lost and forever forgotten – until YOU showed them otherwise.
You can make a difference in the lives of others if only you choose to do so.
All the best and STAY SAFE folks!
About the Author:
Craig Maguire is a proactive executive with 30+ years utilizing organizational development experience, project/case management capabilities, therapeutic counselling and intervention services, business management and administrative accountabilities, and strategic educational/coaching facilitation.
He is an inspiring leader and outstanding visioning, strategic planning and change management skills. With years of leadership and community experience, he is recognized for his passionate intuitive leadership, community investment, stakeholder engagement, enthusiasm, public speaking, and exceptional ability to motivate and engage people in proactive strategies, with emphasis on developing local, Provincial, and National partnerships and alliances.
Craig is engaged in private practice operations through his established organization, IMPRESSIONS FCS Inc. and is Provincially-licensed as a registered social worker in British Columbia, Canada.