Andy Kusi-Appiah

COVID-19 (mis)messaging: compounding mental

health challenges in time & space.”

by Professor Kusi-Appiah, QE scholar, 2019-2021

30 April, 2021


Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.

Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope

The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence

The life o’ th’ building!”

(Shakespeare in Macbeth)



In this article, we revisit the issue of COVID-19, and we examine the ways in which COVID-19 messaging in Ontario has been dealt with, especially in the last couple of months. We take issue with the frequent flip-flopping of the message and the impact it may have on the mental health and wellbeing of residents of Ontario. Ontarians are used to consistent messaging backed by scientific evidence but it appears that recent messaging regarding what to do or what not to do in this pandemic era is based on anything but science. This causes confusion at best and at worst it creates a lot of anxiety, which can have negative effects on the wellbeing of residents. In the end it may lead to depressed residents whose productivity levels may be compromised. In this article, we call on all residents of Ontario to demand that our leaders stick to messaging that take our health and wellbeing into account rather than on only the economic imperative, for without healthy people there can be no economy.


Whenever the law enforcement agencies of any place decline to consider using any powers from ‘above’ it is time to realize that something is not right in the halls of ‘above’. This is exactly what happened in 1917 when the Tsar of Russia commanded law enforcement officers in Russia to clamp down on protesters but they refused. Law enforcement in Russia looked on while the Russian people looted and destroyed property worth billions of dollars in today’s currency. The rest is history and the Russian revolution happened – the worst thing happened to an empire of so many hundred years. Today, we are observing a similar situation in Ontario (Canada) where the major law enforcement agencies have flatly rejected additional powers given from ‘above’. Literally, our law enforcement agencies have declined to exercise directives from the government of the day that admonished them to stop anybody and confirm whether they are there for essential reasons (obviously, we know who will be out there trying to get to or from work – racialized members of our community). As renowned Don Martin put it in his April 21, 2021 article on the matter:

How over-the-top must a decision be for police chiefs to refuse new enforcement tools? That’s something unimaginable in a world where forces often claim clampdown powers they don’t even have.” (Martin, 2021)

The Ontario government quickly backtracked. Needless to say, the power from ‘above’ is exhibiting extreme confusion! Again, Don Martin puts it tersely:

“By reopening and closing services the leadership of the province compounded the damage of….that misguided misdirection by reopening services at the first hint of a case count drop and to only re-close them when the next wave is too big to be stopped…it’s time to impose adult supervision on a premier acting on consistently and dangerously bad advice and instincts.” (Martin, 2021)

Sadly, during the biggest challenge of our time, it appears that our messaging about what to do to get this pandemic under control is not well organized and/or calibrated. Consequently, most residents of Ontario are feeling stressed out and the household is feeling it the most!

Assault on the household: playing with fire:

On February 8, 2021 it was announced that the province of Ontario will conduct a partial lifting of the lockdown put in place some 60 days earlier, and then a month later restaurants and bars were ordered to close again. A little over a month after that (April 16, 2021), the Education Minster followed with a directive for all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools in Ontario (Canada) to teach classes remotely. The province also went further to instruct that all playgrounds be closed because they are too dangerous for children at this time of COVID-19 (this decision was reversed days later). This is a flip-flopping issue that has infuriated parents the most, and if you know anything about parents and their children, you will understand why this is a sensitive issue that deserve consistent messaging rather than flip-flopping to pacify economic motives at the expense of health and wellbeing in general. It is important to note that any time schools are closed it impacts households, as most parents would be working from home and therefore both parents and students would be required to do their work at home. One would think that having parents and their children at home is great for bonding but in reality, this can cause a whole lot of stress for both parents and children.

The question then is: “why is staying home with your child not the greatest idea in this COVID-19 era?” I have worked with hundreds of parents during my time as a coach and I can stick my neck out without equivocation and say that Ontario’s parents are some of the finest on planet Earth: parents love their children and are always involved in all of their activities, however with the advent of COVID-19 and the expectation for us to observe all the protocols including social distancing/wearing of facemasks, and having our children also working from home can be a bit stressful. For starters, when ‘Zoom’ meetings are occurring concurrently as school lessons online, it is almost impossible to supervise a child and work at the same time. To make matters worse, if children are not allowed to step outside of the household (a few metres away) to play with their neighbourhood friends in the neighbourhood park, we are asking for trouble, and big trouble too.

Any parent will tell you that the flip flop messaging regarding school opening and closure is one of the biggest stressors in this era of COVID-19 pandemic. One will recall that students of all stripes in Ontario have been forced to navigate COVID-19 through a mixture of in-person and remote learning since March 2020. Yours truly can testify to the logistical nightmare that this ‘edict’ produced, as most of us were obligated to give the remainder of our courses online. Since then, most teachers and professors have somewhat gotten used to the idea of teaching remotely but the attendant stress to students and their families cannot be over emphasized. In addition, our inability to stick to a standard way of combating this pandemic has left most parents and grandparents scratching their heads. Both parents and students are now stressed to the point where it is affecting their mental health and wellbeing. This is causing a ton of challenges when it comes to productivity more generally – students are handing in their assignments later than usual and parents are unable to fully concentrate on their work at home and supervising their children as well.

Way forward?

These are extraordinary times and we need to observe it as such – I wish it weren’t so but alas, we are here now, we are in a pandemic situation and it is not an ordinary situation. Ignoring what the experts have to say about health risks in favour of some economy does translate into risking human lives – the lives in whose interest(s) the economy is being protected/promoted. I am yet to find the dead enjoying any of the social infrastructure we build in the name of progress. Until powerful entities in our midst understand that the economy is important but it cannot be promoted at the expense of our health and wellbeing, we will continue to have surrogates who will always put us in harm’s way as they will make decisions based solely on economic interests to the detriment of our health and wellbeing in a pandemic situation. Currently, the stress levels of Ontario’s parents and grandparents (who happen to form the majority of our workforce) are at the highest peak, and this is affecting their productive capabilities. We can eliminate those stressors and launch us onto the path of economic success with a well thought out strategy for flattening the curve. We owe this to our children and their families.

Andy Kusi-Appiah is an adjunct professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University. His research seeks to provide a clearer understanding of governance mechanisms that shape access to community resources & how the resulting inequities shape livelihoods in marginalized spaces. Community involvement & volunteering have been his passion for a long time. He was president of the Ghana Association of Ottawa (1995-2003) & senior advisor on Diversity issues to the Mayor of Ottawa (2004-2006), where he led many multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex diversity issues in a timely & sensitive manner. Kusi-Appiah was appointed by the Lt. Governor of Ontario in September 2018 as a public member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario College of Social Work and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW).