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COVID and Mental Health in Canada

The coronavirus pandemic has plunged the world into the unknown. An illness we do not yet fully understand and cannot yet vaccinate against, COVID-19 has shut down large swathes of the world as we knew it. Most of us agree we will never be quite the same again.

For people with pre-existing mental illnesses, the pandemic has created even greater mental health challenges. For those who reported no mental health issues before the pandemic began, anxiety and depression have become familiar. Like every other country in the world, Canada is struggling to keep up with the mental health conditions COVID has both created and intensified.

COVID-19, Anxiety, and Depression

In a national survey, Canadians self-reported their anxiety and depression levels before the pandemic and since the outbreak began. The percentage of those reporting high or extremely high anxiety quadrupled, from 5% before to 20% after the COVID outbreak. The self-reported depression percentage jumped from 4% to 10%, more than double the pre-COVID percentage.

These increases are not altogether surprising. WHO reports that worldwide mental health issues are increasing as bereavement, financial problems, isolation, and fear accompany COVID outbreaks around the world. None of us have escaped being affected by one or more of these stressful events in 2020.

Who is Most Affected?

CAMH reports that their recent survey showed Canadians reporting higher levels of anxiety and depression are women, people who have lost their jobs, those concerned about their finances, families with children in the home, and young people. Women reported anxiety and loneliness more than men, and parents with children under 18 reported more depression than adults without children.

Health care workers and other essential workers are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions resulting from the outbreak because of working conditions involving long hours and shortages of personal protective equipment. Indigenous youth are struggling with the isolation imposed by the contagion, resulting in a higher need for mental health services.

How Are Canadians Coping with COVID?

Survey participants also answered questions about how they are coping with the increased tension the pandemic has brought. Spending time outside was the top answer, with 93.5% of respondents stating that being outdoors was helping them cope. The second most helpful activity was "carving out time to relax," with 93.1% of respondents answering that finding the time to relax helped them deal with the increased stress of the outbreak.

Connecting with friends and family by phone or online was third in the line of coping strategies, with 92% of respondents stating these connections are helpful. Canadians answered that connecting in person was also a key method of coping with COVID. This strategy concerned researchers, who suggested Canadians continue to find safer ways to connect and avoid potentially spreading the virus.

Mental Health Resources

Assess4success maintains a page with links to helpful resources for those with mental health conditions and whose children have mental health needs. The following is only a partial list of services you can access from their site. Please reach out if you need support.

  • Kinark Child and Youth Services
  • Frontenac Youth Services
  • Center for Addiction and Mental Health
  • Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Anxiety Canada
  • Togetherall - Formerly Big White Wall (online peer support and creative platform for those struggling with their mental health)
  • Child Disability Benefit
  • Canada Caregiver Credit

How We Can Help Ourselves and Others

The isolation and uncertainty imposed by the COVID outbreak are difficult for everyone, and especially for those of us with mental health conditions. Living during a pandemic means that self-care is even more critical to our well-being and that of those around us. Here are some ways we can care for ourselves and others during these tough times.

  • Take a walk outdoors. Walking is great for our bodies and minds, and there is never a shortage of beauty to admire.
  • Read. Reading keeps our minds sharp and our imaginations vivid.
  • Call a friend. Phone calls are perhaps somewhat outdated, but hearing a friend's voice means a great deal on tough days.
  • Journal. Create a gratitude list in the morning or journal about the day's events in the evening. Send a card to a loved one.
  • Maintain healthy boundaries. Setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries pays off in healthy relationships.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Remember not everything we think is healthy or realistic. This is true for everyone!
  • Go to Therapy. Keeping our therapy appointments, even virtually, helps us stay healthy.
  • Stay Mindful. Time in the garden or the kitchen is effective therapy when we are attentive to each moment.
  • Eat Well. Healthy meals help us stay well both physically and mentally.
  • Learn a Craft. Creation encourages confidence. Ditch the perfectionism and have fun!

You are the greatest gift you can offer to the world. Be compassionate with yourself as we all get through this hard time together.