In late January 2020, British Columbia confirmed its first case of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus. By mid-March, AME members became acutely aware of the virus when two attendees came down with COVID-19 after the annual Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto that many from the BC exploration community had attended. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
To contain the spread of the virus, B.C., Canada and other countries around the world have asked citizens to change their behaviour through a series of public health measures including physical distancing, travel restrictions, and business and school closures. By mid-March, we were staying home and had abruptly embarked on a “new normal”.
For many, this meant no more office. No commute. No business travel. No school. With little time to readjust, we hastily created new schedules, set up home workspaces, started teaching our kids at home, and planning our grocery shopping like a complex field program.
The scale of the impact these changes make depends on the individual. Some people are sick themselves, or worried about older relatives and other vulnerable people. Others are concerned about partners and loved ones who are essential workers. Some have lost their jobs and are worried about paying rent, paying staff or simply affording groceries. Remaining calm can be a challenge and people of all ages are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.
For members of the B.C. exploration community, additional concerns cloud our thoughts. How will uncertainty and volatility affect the stock market and our ability to raise funds for projects? When will we be able to network, travel and visit projects again? How can we plan for the approaching field season with so many unknowns?
You are not alone.
The Province has recognised the increased stress, anxiety and depression we are all feeling to some degree and, on April 9, announced $5 million in funding to increase access to virtual mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
** If you need help right now, call the crisis line anytime at 1-800-784-2433 or 310-6789. You can also visit https://cmha.bc.ca/mental-health/find-help/ **
The funding will support new and existing virtual mental health services that B.C. residents can access from home, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) BounceBack coaching and skills program and Live Life to the Full courses, and specific tools for youth, seniors, parents, frontline healthcare workers and Indigenous Peoples. See this link for a full list of the Virtual Mental Health Supports During COVID-19.
Here at AME, we have set up a COVID-19 Information page on our website to share important updates relevant to our members and their work. We are all in this together but recognise that every situation is different, so we canvassed a range of AME members to hear how they are dealing with the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in as we try to limit the spread of COVID-19. Here is a taste of how some members are managing the stress bought on by COVID-19.
Advice from our members
“For me it was helpful to try to move quickly past the initial shock and frustration and to register a new normal,” says Dianne Mitchinson, research associate at UBC’s Mineral Deposit Research Unit (MDRU), “Mentally, it was helpful to accept that this is how it’s going to be for while, and this is what the new routine looks like.”
Some members feel that our careers in mineral exploration have prepared us well for social isolation. Prospector Ed Balon says, “Social distancing and self isolation are not really much of an issue for me, a single “old-timer”… I’ve spent over half my working career in remote mineral exploration tent camps in the northwestern Canadian wilderness, with generally only very few coworkers.” Balon reminds himself that “this too shall pass” and has settled in to do some reading and research.
Geologist Andy Randell has also embraced the slower pace. “I am suddenly finding that I have a really clear head to tackle this ordeal head on,” says Randell, “I also find my best self during a crisis and can get really focussed on finding solutions. I am using my usual “stress bandwidth” to be proactive.”
Being proactive can be tricky if working from home everyday is a new experience, or you are sharing a small space with others, or helping school-age children with their studies while working. Carving out time and space to focus on work is a huge challenge.
Maggie Layman, Vice President, Exploration, at Barkerville Gold, spends much of her time working remotely at the company’s field office in Wells, BC. She advises that you, “pay attention to [your] most productive hours. It may be different for everyone.” And Jeanne Liu, Events & Stakeholder Relations at MDRU, suggests dressing for work to create a neat divide between work time and home time.
“It helps me to separate my work verses home attire,” says Liu, “I feel more confident when I have my game face – and real pants – on!”
It is easy to be distracted by the constant barrage of news related to the global pandemic. Knowing the facts about COVID-19 and not binging on news all day is one of the five things the BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions suggests to manage COVID-19 stress, anxiety and depression. Crag Hart, Director of MDRU, advises that we consume COVID-19 news in small, well placed doses.
“Limit media influence on your brain,” says Hart, “Don’t participate in the 24/7 news cycle.”
Mona Forster, President & CEO, Range Road Advisory, agrees, “Limiting news about COVID has been important. I check the morning and evening news and ignore it during the day. More music, less news.”
Reliable, fact-based sources of information include: BC Centre for Disease Control, HealthLinkBC, Health Canada, and the World Health Organization. And, of course, the daily updates from Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.
Staying connected with friends, family and coworkers and building self-care into everyday is vital to maintaining good mental health at any time but especially during COVID-19. All the members surveyed for this story built fresh air and exercise into everyday. For some, a walk around the block before work is inspiration to not go back to bed, and for others, like Rob McLeod, Chair of the AME Board, an intense daily group fitness session with fellow geologists via Zoom is the way to go.
Several members have adopted new pets and are enjoying their company, and many are using the time to read more, get adventurous in the kitchen, paint, sing, play and discover new music. Richard Truman, Director, External Relations at Geoscience BC, is creating and sharing Spotify playlists with friends and playing them while he works.
For better or worse, many of us are spending more time with our immediate families. This can be challenging, particularly in small spaces with young children, or for parents who are trying to help with schoolwork while juggling their own workload.
“Maybe there is too much [family time] right now,” says Hart, “But value it and take charge of it where you can because there may never be a better time to communicate, to create memorable moments, or to positively influence the well-being of your loved ones.”
Mitchinson agrees: “We have two small kids, and we are taking the time, without allowing any guilt, to enjoy our slower mornings together as a family, getting up a little later, and having breakfast together. It’s a silver lining.”
On a good day, it is easy to see the silver lining in this situation and enjoy the slower pace life is offering us right now. But it is always OK to seek help when it feels like too much. For some, the isolation and worry COVID-19 can cause may accentuate issues that you were better able to handle before. Seek out some of the supports you relied on before online, perhaps by scheduling regular counselling sessions to help with anxiety or, if you have experienced addiction, continue with recovery meetings, reach out to a trusted friend or visit an online service such as http://www.247aaonline.com/.
Finally, Kendra Johnston, President and CEO of AME comments, “We know this is a challenging time for all of you and your businesses, we are doing our best to advocate on your behalf and are cheering all of you on, but we also know that many of you are dealing with COVID, directly or indirectly, in your personal lives as well. We are all in this together and hope what we’re doing at AME helps ease the stress… We hope you are doing well and urge you to reach out and seek help if or when you need it.”