Mental Health Issues and the Pandemic
by Dr. Jackie Gardner-Nix
When the Pandemic began to cause widespread mayhem across the world, the first priority of governments was to save lives and not overwhelm their health systems. The next was to provide financial assistance; the fallout around mental health would come later.
Emotions arising: At first there was widespread fear and anxiety. More than 80% of the population felt these emotions, a state of mind that was logical and relatable! Going out for provisions was scary for many and social distancing was a strategy we hadn’t heard of until then, unless you had been working in public health. Front line workers went through emotions of apprehension about their own safety and that of their loved ones. Others had never had so much time on their hands. Others worked from home and managed their young children: No giving them over to grandparents or other caregivers now.
Mental Health Early Data: Statistics Canada1 studied mental health changes from April 24 to May 11, 2020 in 42,000 Canadians by crowdsourcing and with methods not as rigorous as usual, but to get a sense of where things were going. The data showed that 1 in 5 Canadians reported fair to poor mental health, whereas 1 in 12 had reported that in a 2018 survey. Over half of those reporting fair to poor mental health reported their mental health was somewhat to much worse since physical distancing began and just under half (41%) had symptoms consistent with moderate to severe anxiety.
A recent survey2 done by Centre for Mental Health and Addictions (CAMH) in Toronto, surveyed 2,000 Canadians over 18 years of age for two periods during May 2020. One in 5 reported loneliness during the pandemic and 1 in 4 reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety due to job insecurity or fear of contracting COVID, dropping to 1 in 5 by late May. Perhaps the anxiety was subsiding as measures were taking place to reduce some of the restrictions. One in 4 said they were drinking alcohol more than usual during the pandemic and 1 in 5 said they were feeling more depressed. The younger age group 18 to 39 and those with children under 18 reported a higher level of depression than older age groups.
We use activity, work/school and contact with others, in addition to other strategies, to keep ourselves mentally well: much of that was removed from us.
We know the mind/body connection is inseparable. The physical and mental health “fall out” may be revealed gradually, and could become intense for some, once the immediate dangers of COVID 19 have passed.
The work of reviving mental health for those who had fewer supports, more economic uncertainty, and greater danger will need to ramp up; we need to be ready and supported by our governments to provide that help.
It isn’t just the infection we fear; it is the whole package resulting from the mandatory change in our lives to keep ourselves and others physically alive, while racking up emotional/mental debt that we now must address.
Mindfulness is among the strategies we can offer and can help many when future world challenges arise.
1 Statistics Canada, Canadians’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, Released 2020-05-27 https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm
2 Stroh, Perlita & Roumeliotis, Ioanna, CBC News, CAMH survey shows pandemic affecting mental health, but anxiety levels may be easing, Posted June 17, 2020 https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/camh-mental-health-canadians-1.5614447