Wellness is a social justice issue in 2020

Posted on November 24, 2020 in Equality Debates

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors

We are wasting a crisis.

While Toronto has been identified as a COVID hot spot, the reality is that low-income neighbourhoods make up the majority of outbreaks. Toronto publishes data on the concentration of infections in the city, and areas such as Glenfield-Jane Heights tend to represent a significant percentage of case numbers on a consistent basis. In Rosedale, outbreaks are not a common occurrence. A curtain has been lifted on the pre-existing inequalities associated with well-being and illness.

Many inhabitants of low-income neighbourhoods in Toronto travel on public transit, commute to a low- or minimum-wage job, and live in a densely populated highrise building with questionable ventilation. On the other hand, residents of Toronto’s more well-to-do neighbourhoods often have the luxury of working from their nicely appointed home offices that overlook the green space in which their children can play and run. Many are able to escape to a second home to bathe in nature and commit to wellness on the weekends. The contrast between these experiences in “quarantine” is stark.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would tell us that the residents of these lower-income areas are not having their basic psychological need of safety being met during this pandemic. How can these individuals focus on their wellness when they are forced into the very circumstances that could get them very sick? This has been hard to watch, especially in the wake of media messages that urge the general public to practice self-care and isolation to combat illness in 2020. As an affluent member of society, it is easy to heed these messages; we can throw on some yoga pants, do a fitness video on our work laptops and wait for the Uber Eats to be delivered, probably by someone from these hot spot neighbourhoods.

The reality is that a great number of people are unable to buy into the wellness industry. Case and point — individuals who live in lower-income areas of the city often find themselves in a “food desert,” where access to healthy food exists far outside the neighbourhood. Travelling for groceries presents a real health risk in the current pandemic. Of course, individuals make choices, and these people can make the choice to commit to wellness, certainly, but the road to get there is filled with craters and potholes in regular times — now, the road goes up a mountain.

It is time to admit that the path to personal well-being does not begin at the same starting line; COVID has exposed this heartbreaking fact on a devastating stage. Let’s not waste this crisis by aching to return to a “normal” that is fine for a few but unjust for so many others. It is time to define what wellness really is, not just for those who have the good fortune to commit to the practice, but for those who are struggling to stay alive right now.

We can start by offering a vaccine to these groups first.

Laura Elliott is a guidance counsellor at Lakefield College School. She holds a PhD in health and physical education.


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