A local Mental Health Professional suggests that if we grow our critical thinking skills, it will help us through this pandemic.

Daniel Dacombe has his master's degree in psychology and is a member of the Canadian Psychological Association. In order to sift through all of the misinformation out there, he suggests learning more about yourself and why you think the way you do.

According to Dacombe, human beings are very good at recognizing patterns, which means we are good at making connections, which is a result of adaptation. He notes the downside is that our ability to see patterns sometimes means we are finding patterns that do not exist. He says that is where conspiracy theories come into play.

"Conspiracy theories are very pattern-oriented, they are very simple, they are very easy to understand, when a lot of things out there in the world, including things like virology and epidemiology and everything to do with how viruses work and transmit, it's very complicated," notes Dacombe. "It's a little bit more understandable for our brains to believe that there is some kind of conspiracy to control people and that's where this whole pandemic is coming from."

Dacombe says in order to avoid being tripped up by our cognitive biases, we should learn to think critically and to look at our own biases and wrestle with uncomfortable facts.

"We don't naturally gravitate towards information that challenges our perspectives, makes us uncomfortable or requires us to grow," suggests Dacombe. "We do naturally gravitate towards information that confirms our perspective, and allows us to stay the same, even when that information may go against the best data we currently have available. This is an example of what's called a cognitive bias."

Dacombe says when it comes to the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, this takes root because of some unique factors about our psychology. He notes critical thinking or thinking scientifically does not come naturally to human beings.

"Our brains tend to kind of conserve mental energy by urging us to think and solve problems in ways that require the least amount of effort possible, so holding an opinion requires very little mental effort," explains Dacombe. "But actually changing an opinion requires our brains to engage in difficult and sophisticated and expensive processes, expensive for our mental resources that are. So the result of this is a strong reluctance to change our minds."

Meanwhile, with Manitoba in Level Red on the province's Pandemic Response System, Dacombe says one of the biggest side effects is caused by isolation, especially with the elderly or immunocompromised.

"There's a growing body of research which indicates when people are prevented from having a connection for long periods of time there are some pretty dramatic physical and psychological effects," he says. "These include things like increased rates of depression, disability in thinking and problem solving, increased anxiety, increased risk of suicide."

He notes isolation can also increase the risk of Alzheimer's and other health conditions like higher blood pressure, heart disease and overall increased rates of mortality.

"These issues are being compounded by the economic hardships that many people are currently facing," he says. "And that being said, the dangers of the pandemic are very real."

Dacombe says by looking at the burdens on the health care systems in the harder hit areas of North America and around the world, you will see the deadly consequences of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable populations. Yet, while there are costs, he notes there are also benefits for the elderly, immunocompromised and for the health care system as a whole.

"The fact that Manitoba had relatively few cases up until recently may have led some people to believe that our pandemic response was an over-reaction but which we're starting to see is not the case," he says. "COVID-19 is a real thing and people need to be aware of it and listen to the restrictions that are coming out."