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Markham residents get creative to stay positive, connected during coronavirus pandemic

#healthyathome: Markham Rec At Home Challenge part of online hub connecting residents
May 14, 2020
Heidi Reidner

The City of Markham's recreation and culture department has put in place a number of online initiatives so Markham residents can share creative ways to stay positive and connected while physically distanced due to COVID-19.

The #MarkhamRecAtHomeChallenge offers a sharing portal for all ages, where residents can not only access things like yoga, workout and line-dancing videos, but also upload their own.

The most recent example offered parents the opportunity to post their kids' Star Wars related paintings or drawings as part of a "May the 4th be with you" campaign.

Practising creativity during the pandemic is a chance for members of busy households juggling the demands of parenting, home schooling and working from home to take a break and do something they enjoy, said a city spokesperson.

And for residents dealing with isolation and loneliness, it provides an opportunity to stay connected with the larger community.

Your Voice Markham (YVM), under the Markham Cares portal, is an online hub to keep residents engaged in a number of ways, including posting ideas and photos of what they are doing at home to beat boredom, show their support for front-line workers or offer helpful tips.

Activities that "give expression to passion and creativity" are key to combatting isolation, says John Eastwood, clinical psychologist, associate psychology professor at York University and lead investigator at the Boredom Lab.

Eastwood interviewed astronaut Chris Hadfield while researching a book he co-authored called “Out of My Skull,” due out in June, which asks: what if we listened to boredom instead of banishing it?

Many have proven they are up to the challenge -- taking to social media to post their crazy hair or dress-up days, drive-by birthday parties, messages of hope and inspiration painted on rocks and placed on neighbours' lawns or recipes for sourdough bread under a renaissance of sorts in home baking.

Despite the pandemic-driven growth in video-conferencing and social media usage, 47 per cent of people are feeling more isolated than ever, up from 39 per cent less than a month ago, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

Two-thirds of Ontarians, or 66 per cent, report they would like to experience more meaningful social interactions in their daily life, according to a joint study between the CMHA and Maru/Matchbox.

"It’s clear we need each other more than ever," says Margaret Eaton, the national chief executive of CMHA.

Prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern.

People with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour and suicide. And a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to the agency.

"Due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing family events and in-person activities and it appears they are feeling it," says Eaton.

The Ford government announced last week it is expanding virtual mental health services to help thousands of Ontarians experiencing anxiety and depression, including front-line health care workers, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The programs were developed in partnership with MindBeacon and Morneau Shepell and will be provided at no out-of-pocket costs across the province.

"Even though this virus has taken a heavy toll on our everyday lives, we are doing everything we can to keep people healthy, physically and mentally," said Premier Doug Ford.

"By expanding access to free virtual and online mental health supports, I want those who are struggling to know that we are here to support and help you cope with the stress, isolation and anxiety during these extraordinary times."

Visit the City of Markham website for full details.