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Pandemic's psychological toll likely to soon lift

Most people underestimate their resiliency, UBC psychology professor says
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UBC psychology professor Steven Taylor believes people underestimate how likely they are to return to pre-pandemic routines.

The prospects for British Columbians’ collective psyche to bound back from pandemic-inflicted despondency and depression might be better than many people think.

A University of British Columbia (UBC) study last year found that 65% of respondents reported adverse, pandemic-related mental health effects.

“People are in a state of pandemic fatigue,” said UBC psychology professor Steven Taylor. “They’re not feeling optimistic, and so they underestimate the extent to which they’ll bounce back. I think most people will bounce back.”

He pointed to how people in China, which has largely contained COVID-19’s spread, have returned to pre-COVID-19 activities. Casinos are open, for instance, in Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub. 

New Zealand, which recently averaged about three new COVID-19 infections per day, allowed the band Crowded House to play a March 13 outdoor concert with approximately 6,000 people in attendance. Videos on social media showed the fans standing shoulder to shoulder, exuberantly belting out choruses to some of the band's songs.

Taylor believes that were the Vancouver Canucks to allow fans to attend games, the team would attract crowds

“People seem to want to get back to socializing, but going back to work might be a different situation,” Taylor said.

Research Co. surveyed 700 B.C. adults March 8-9 and found 50% expected more virtual staff meetings, with 46% expecting more virtual communication between offices and 47% expecting more virtual meetings for business development.

Research Co. president Mario Canseco believes that if people continue to replace in-person interactions with Zoom calls, the motivation will be more out of a desire for convenience than out of a fear of getting sick.

He said more than half of those surveyed had worked from home for at least part of the pandemic.

Many of those employees adjusted well to working from home, with many now accustomed to the convenience and cost savings of not having to commute, he said.

More than one-third of survey respondents expect to be able to work from their homes at least three days per week post-pandemic. Only 10% said they expect to never work from home once the COVID-19 crisis ends.

Key to helping workers adjust to going back to offices will be clear communication from employers, Canseco said. 

Any uncertainty as to whether the office environment is safe, that everyone is vaccinated and that safety protocols are in place will make some workers reluctant to go back, he added.

Only about one-third of survey respondents said employers have explained how they will be expected to return to the office, and how many employees will still be able to work from home post-pandemic.

“There’s 15% to 20% of people, both in Canada and in B.C., who say they won’t get vaccinated,” said Canseco. “Who knows if they’ll change their minds afterwards especially if we wind up with a situation where there are COVID passports [that are needed for travel?]"

Some cruise lines are already requiring all passengers to have been vaccinated.

Having health officials provide statistics showing clear declines in new COVID-19 infections is also key to helping people feel that it is OK to return to offices, said Taylor. 

He added that it’s likely that a year or two from now, people will largely be back to socializing as they did before COVID-19. 

Taylor pointed to the decade dubbed the Roaring Twenties, which followed the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. Many people wore masks during that pandemic, and then stopped the practice in the 1920s, Taylor said.

People also returned to the habit of shaking hands in greeting, and in hugging each other, he added.

"It's going to be something similar here, because we just don't have a culture of mask wearing," Taylor said.

He expects restaurants to continue to have hand sanitizer at their entrances, although over time, that provision will taper off, he said.

"Hand washing will probably continue because that's a well-ingrained, culturally established practice of keeping yourself safe from infection," said Taylor. 

gkorstrom@biv.com

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