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Pandemic causing Canadians to see decline in mental health

A new policy briefing shows 84% of Canadians have seen a decline in mental health due to the pandemic
181020 - mental health
(Chris Stoodley/HalifaxToday.ca)

A policy briefing from Canadian professionals shows the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting the mental health of Canadians.

Organized by the Royal Society of Canada, four researchers from Dalhousie University were among the authors of the policy briefing titled Easing the Disruption of COVID-19: Supporting the Mental Health of the People of Canada.

Marsha Campbell-Yeo, a neonatal nurse and professor in Dalhousie University’s faculty of health, is one of the 13 authors who worked on the document.

“It’s quite a broad look at the overall impact of the pandemic, not only for those living with mental illness but those who are affected in their mental wellbeing,” she tells NEWS 95.7’s The Sheldon MacLeod Show. “It also very much highlights some of the pre-existing issues that we have in the ways that we’ve handled mental health concerns with respect to definitely highlighting some of the concerns for those living in poverty, who are discriminated against and who are most at risk.”

One study in the policy briefing, conducted between April 27 and May 15, is from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Conference Board of Canada. It shows 84 per cent of respondents reported that their mental health had declined during the pandemic.

The biggest concerns were family wellbeing, one’s future, isolation and loneliness, anxiety and fear.

The study also shows there appears to be an increase in mental health disorders including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance-use disorders and traumatic stress for an important but currently unknown percentage of people in Canada.

In September, Morneau Shepell released its Mental Health Index report reviewing mental health six months into the pandemic. It shows the most common concern impacting mental health is the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic at 38 per cent; the second most common concern, at 34 per cent, is contracting the virus.

According to other studies in the policy briefing, the pandemic has had deeper effects on the mental health of Canadians.

A Nanos poll for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction shows about 20 per cent of respondents have increased their use of alcohol because of the pandemic.

Human Rights Watch indicates people from the LGBTQ+ community and racialized individuals have a higher risk of getting COVID-19. That includes many Indigenous communities that suffer from a lack of clean water and overcrowding that makes hand washing and social distancing difficult.

Moreover, the policy briefing mentions evidence that people who are homeless, have a chronic illness, are imprisoned and live in poverty have higher chances of getting the virus.

The Canadian Mental Health Association also reports an increase in suicidal thoughts. In 2019, 2.5 per cent of Canadians reported having suicidal thoughts within the previous year; that number rose to 6 per cent in May 2020.

To approach these issues, the authors of the policy briefing make 21 recommendations to help improve the mental health and well-being of Canadians.

The first recommends the federal government, in conjunction with the provincial and territorial governments, increase the funding for mental health services to at least 12 per cent of the health services budget.

“We see that currently, about seven per cent of the funding goes towards helping with mental health,” Campbell-Yeo says.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that prior to the pandemic, mental health problems cost the Canadian economy around $50 billion a year.

Other recommendations include developing funding for virtual healthcare and creating a national task force to prevent mental illness and promote mental health.

The policy briefing also reviews topics such as access to mental health care, prevention and the impact isolation has on families, employment issues and homeschooling.

“Not only do we need to provide these services, but we need to think about ways to reach those who are most affected,” she says.

“This really looks at not only the provision of services … but also how do we ensure that all Canadians have equal access?”


Chris Stoodley

About the Author: Chris Stoodley

Chris was born and raised in Halifax. After graduating from the journalism program at King's, he started as HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor.
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