As much as physical health is paramount during the pandemic, so too is mental well-being. According to a Statistics Canada survey, about 5.3 million Canadians needed support with their mental health within the past year. Not surprisingly, dealing with an unprecedented crisis such as COVID-19 is taking an even greater toll on the anxiety and stress levels of many individuals.
Another new survey--by the Angus Reid Institute--suggests half of Canadians feel a deterioration in their mental health, whether that is expressed as boredom, worry or worse. Sixteen per cent of those surveyed described themselves as as depressed during the mid-April sampling.
Alberta, more than any Canadian region, falls into the hardest hit category on the Angus Reid survey, with 32 per cent saying they are struggling both mentally and financially. Overall, women aged 18-54 were most likely to report mental health impacts.
"Alberta's economy has been battered by low oil prices leading to financial instability and uncertainty for households, said Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl.
Early May marks Mental Health Week in Canada, an awareness campaign focused on bringing attention to mental health and wellness issues across Canada. Across the globe, mental health month is marked throughout May. The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) said COVID-19 makes the issue of mental health more important than ever.
“With this global pandemic we can expect to see an increase in Canadians who are suffering and who need help, as these new conditions including isolation and the heightened inability to access services are experienced," said Dr. Kathy Offet-Gartner, CCPA’s President-Elect.
"We also need to be planning ahead for the surge of Canadians who will inevitably reach out for support as daily lives start to return to normal, whenever that may be," added Carrie Foster, CCPA's Quebec Anglophone Director.
Many counsellors and psychotherapists offer e-mental health or virtual care across Canada utilizing services such as telephone, video, and text-based counselling. See ccpa-accp.ca for details.
Psychiatrist Vinah Saranga said there's a lot of misguided and incorrect information around mental health. These include:
-Anxiety is just feeling nervous: anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric conditions and include OCD, panic disorder and PTSD
-Mental illness isn't real: Millions around the world suffer from anxiety, depression or bipolar--all very real health conditions
-You can 'just get over it': Telling someone to snap out of it dminishes the severity and seriousness of the condition.
-Depression is just feeling sad: It's much more; it's a serious psychiatric condition that can require therapy and/or medication to recover
-Mental illness only occurs in weak people: It can happen to anyone, and is usually a result of an imbalance of certain brain chemicals, heriditary influences or specific life events.
-Stress is not a big deal: Stress is a big deal and can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and more.
-Antianxiety meds are handed out like candy: Medications can be a lifesaver for those with anxiety and depression. So can a referral to a psychiatrist.
“When it comes to mental health and resilience, the importance of social connection cannot be overstated. The past few months have been difficult for Albertans – between the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty and floods in northern Alberta. For those suffering from addiction or mental health issues, the impact may be more significant with increased levels of anxiety, fear or depression," added associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan.
“Social connection can help us weather the storm. I encourage you all to reach out to your friends and family. If you know someone who suffers from mental illness, take it a step further and reach in: ask them how they are doing. Let them know you care about them.If you are struggling with mental illness or addiction, supports are available at no charge, 24-7.
Call Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642.
Alberta’s Addiction Helpline is available 24-7 toll-free and offers confidential support for alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and problem gambling: 1-866-332-2322.
Province-wide, the Alberta government announced a boost of $53 million for help with those struggling with mental health and addictions. This includes expanding online supports and helplines (including the Addiction Helpline, the Mental Health Helpline and the Community and Social Services Helpline (Alberta 211) a new platform offering mental health screening, self-help guides and counsellors.
The Canadian Mental Health Association has a variety of resources available at mentalhealthweek.ca.