They call it the “hidden pandemic.” The mental health crisis has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In spring 2021, a Statistics Canada study found that one in four Canadian adults demonstrated symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.4 Yet our healthcare system offers inadequate supports. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that only half of Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode receive potentially adequate care.5 Mental health has lifelong consequences for those who struggle with it.
For Toronto’s Holocaust Survivors, this kind of trauma is not new. Lisa Kronenberg—Jewish Family and Child Service’s (JF&CS) Manager of Hospice & Holocaust Survivor Services—says that Survivors’ experiences of trauma have relevance for the rest of us in this pandemic.
“Survivors endured unfathomable trauma in the Holocaust,” says Lisa. “Survival didn’t end the trauma either. After the Holocaust, they faced physical unwellness, psychological pain, the question of why they survived, and others didn’t. Then, the challenges of immigration, including learning new languages, economic precarity, and now the struggles of old age.”
But Lisa emphasizes that trauma walks hand-in-hand with resilience. “Our Survivors found careers, came to Canada—many from the former Soviet Union, where they suffered persecution and antisemitism long after the Holocaust. They overcame all of this, started families, and lived their lives.”
Yet today, our Survivors are vulnerable. As they age, they lose control, becoming more dependent on others, often less tied to the community. “Coping with trauma is about control, and so loss of control is enormously challenging,” Lisa adds. If you’re an isolated Survivor, how do you get groceries? How do you pay for medication? How do you cope with the fear of COVID-19 alone? This lack of control and dependence on others was amplified by the reality of Survivors’ poverty, which is almost twice that of other Jewish seniors and double that of all Canadian seniors.
Last year, with the support of generous donors like you, we addressed the immediate and urgent needs of Survivors in the pandemic—massively increasing capacity to deliver Kosher Meals on Wheels, procuring personal protective equipment like medical masks for our agency partners and their frontline workers, and more. With the slow and steady return to normalcy, the pent-up needs of Survivors are returning to the fore. Many delayed receiving new hearing aids, surgeries, and other medical interventions. “In 2021, their question became: How am I going to take care of myself? Who is there to care for me?” says Lisa.
In stepped frontline workers, like Lisa’s team at JF&CS. “Our social workers became a lifeline,” she shares. “Especially for the Survivors who had no one. The world became more frightening. New experiences retriggered their traumas. For instance, long lines in grocery stores, emptying shelves—a reminder of hunger in the ghettos and camps, bread lines in the former Soviet Union. Many Survivors lost loved ones. They couldn’t host or attend funerals, see their kids and mourn together. Imagine how triggering that would be for someone who never had a funeral for family members lost in the Holocaust.”
Supporting the acute needs of Survivors is an essential part of our broader efforts to address mental health and wellness in the community. The lessons we’ve learned from decades of walking with Survivors through their trauma now informs how we help those facing the traumas of COVID-19. In addition to UJA funding that helped support 1,421 clients at JF&CS’ Holocaust Survivors Services in 2021, your gift also enabled us to support services for 1,500 other clients per quarter for individual, group, and family counselling.
So too, UJA investments are confronting the growing addictions crisis. Through UJA-funded Jewish Addiction Community Services (JACS) Toronto, your gift helps support counselling for 700 clients per quarter. This often life-saving work supports community members across a spectrum of addiction issues, including alcohol, drug, and gambling challenges, among other dependencies. Because of gifts like yours, we are tackling this hidden pandemic in a multitude of ways— even as the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end—by empowering a variety of agencies offering different interventions. That’s the power of a gift to UJA—investing in community-wide reach and a rapid response to the crises of the moment.
For Survivors, and those like them living with the mental health consequences of the pandemic, this crisis isn’t over. It won’t pass for a long time. “Trauma-centred care is not about fixing trauma—it’s about giving back the dignity that comes with feeling a sense of control,” says Lisa.
4 Statistics Canada
5 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
6 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health