British Columbia government communications officials were forced to admit they “missed the mark” Friday over a social media post urging people to play “self-care bingo.”
The B.C. Government News Twitter account posted the idea Friday afternoon with the caption, “Self-care can help manage some stress & anxiety during #CovidBC. Identify how you’ve taken care of yourself so far this week with the goal to complete a row, column, or diagonal.”
Attached was a bingo card with ideas such as “meditated,” “drank tea,” and “built a blanket fort.”
Reaction on social media was swift, with many calling the idea tone-deaf.
“People are dying! On top of the pandemic we have a mental health and opioid crisis in our province. I can’t believe this was approved for publication. Tone deaf and patronizing,” read one reply.
“Narrator: That day Nero recommended fiddling for stress reduction while Rome burned,” stated another.
Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Scott Lear said for people struggling with serious mental health crises, the suggestions on the bingo card could be viewed as insulting.
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“For a lot of us we’re past that point where reading a book or building a blanket fort is going to help us,” he said.
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“Some people have suffered immensely in terms of financially, maybe their own health, missing loved ones, and that’s taken a big toll on stress, depression, anxiety and mental wellbeing.”
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The post could come across as suggesting that simple acts like reading a book should be able to help people struggling with the pandemic, he said, which obviously isn’t the case.
Many people in front-line positions also lack access to paid sick days or mental health benefits, he said. Resources that are free, accessible or government-subsidized are few and limited, he added.
The province’s reticence to share COVID-19 data, and the uncertainty around when restrictions might end — factors that are within the government’s hands — are currently actually adding to people’s stress, he said.
“It just seemed kind of insulting to everybody,” drug policy advisor and Downtown Eastside community advocate Karen Ward said of the bingo card.
“Take care of yourself while everything is collapsing around you, and sorry about that, but make a blanket fort. And of course the first thing that went through my mind is there are a couple of hundred people living in tents just over there.”
Ward had one of the more creative replies to the province’s messaging: her own bingo card.
Instead of self-care suggestions, Ward’s card is made up of policy ideas she argues would do more to help shorten the pandemic — and help people’s mental and physical health.
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“I thought the health authorities would get better at this,” she said.
“It feels like people are just being told to deal with it on their own, which is the opposite of public health. So I made my own card for them with things they could actually do that would save lives and actually limit the spread of the virus.”
Friday evening, the province responded to the furor, writing that the post had been intended to “give people ideas of how they can take care of themselves and their neighbours and point them to free and low-cost mental health supports.”
It said it recognized the real mental, emotional and financial stress people were facing, and that the bingo card “missed the mark.”
“We know there’s a lot more work to do to get through this — we’re committed to doing the work.”
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