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Activate Awareness

by Tanya Coulter

I was asked to include an article for the 16 days of activism and I will be honest I did not feel particularly excited about writing something. I think like many and most I am experiencing Covid Fatigue, it is definitely a common experience we are all sharing these days, echoing the words of Politicians, Leaders and Medical Advisors: “We are all in this together”. So, then I as I sit down to write, I ask myself: How do we activate our activist self when we are collectively overwhelmed and exhausted? I found my answer while I was scrolling on Facebook! The following quote was shared a few times over and is the inspiration for my article:

“We are not all in the same boat.
We are in the same storm,
some have yachts,
some canoes and some are drowning.
Just be kind and help whoever you can.”

This quote activates awareness with regard to how we are all doing in this storm of Covid.

How we are able to cope, manage and respond to the stressors brought about by this worldwide pandemic are intrinsically connected to our Social Determinants of Health and our Allostatic Load.
Here is a definition of the Social Determinants of Health from the Government of Canada’s website:

“Many factors have an influence on health. In addition to our individual genetics and lifestyle choices, where we are born, grow, live, work and age also have an important influence on our health.
Determinants of health are the broad range of personal, social, economic and environmental factors that determine individual and population health. The main determinants of health include:
1. Income and social status
2. Employment and working conditions
3. Education and literacy
4. Childhood experiences
5. Physical environments
6. Social supports and coping skills
7. Healthy behaviours
8. Access to health services
9. Biology and genetic endowment
10. Gender
11. Culture
12. Race / Racism

Social determinants of health refer to a specific group of social and economic factors within the broader determinants of health. These relate to an individual’s place in society, such as income, education or employment. Experiences of discrimination, racism and historical trauma are important social determinants of health for certain groups such as Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQ and Black Canadians.

Health inequalities in Canada
Canada is one of the healthiest countries in the world. However, some Canadians are healthier and have more opportunities to lead a healthy life.
Differences in the health status of individuals and groups are called health inequalities. These differences can be due to your genes and the choices you make. For example, whether you exercise or drink alcohol. However, the social determinants of health can also have an important influence on health. For example, Canadians with higher incomes are often healthier than those with lower incomes.
Health inequity refers to health inequalities that are unfair or unjust and modifiable. For example, Canadians who live in remote or northern regions do not have the same access to nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables as other Canadians.

Health equity is the absence of unfair systems and policies that cause health inequalities. Health equity seeks to reduce inequalities and to increase access to opportunities and conditions conducive to health for all.

Supporting the reduction of health inequalities
Reducing health inequalities means helping to give everyone the same opportunities to be healthy, no matter who they are or where they live.”
These social determinants influence how well someone is able to cope, manage and respond to stressors in their lives.

Now ask yourself what is my Allostatic Load in relation to my social determinants of health?

What, never heard this term before? I just learned about it this past summer when taking an online Grief and Trauma Recovery training course for work and it still resonates strongly with me, as it encapsulates the need to activate awareness during these Covid Days. One’s Allostatic Load is defined as “the wear and tear on the body” which accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress. The term was coined by Bruce McEwan and Stellar in 1993.” (Wikipedia).

So, when we put these two ideas together, the quote I shared from my Facebook scroll reminds us of the importance of activating our awareness: what sort of boat have I been in since last spring? What sort of boat does my neighbour have? What about that family down the street, what sort of boat are they using or borrowing to stay afloat? Maybe all they have is an old rubber dingy with duct tape?! Don’t judge them, offer another roll of duct tape! When we consider this perhaps it will activate our awareness and remind us yet again to be more compassionate and more kind and more forgiving.

Tanya Coulter is the  Indigenous Healing and Wellness Strategy Program Coordinator, M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre

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