Mental health, like physical health, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and though these impacts might not have been felt immediately, they’re being felt down the line.
“We have had a really rough year for a lot of different reasons, with the consistent theme being a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of fear and anxiety that are hitting us in a lot of ways,” said Tayte Willows, director of programs and policy for the PEI Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). “So we’re seeing the impacts of that, and we’re feeling the impacts of that.”
In December 2020, a study by the national branch of the CMHA and the University of British Columbia found a decrease in self-reported mental health and wellness in Canadians over the course of the pandemic. A total of 3,000 Canadians were surveyed, 500 participants were from Atlantic Canada. The study found the second wave of the pandemic has intensified feelings of stress and anxiety, causing alarming levels of despair, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness in the Canadian population.
Also, Canadians with pre-existing mental health challenges or mental health factors may also be dealing with additional layers of stress.
“The impact on their wellness was even greater than it would have been on the general population,” said Ms Willows. “So folks who were already struggling were struggling even more, and folks who may not have previously had these struggles are starting to experience them for the first time.”
Ms Willows said the CMHA talks about mental health as being comprised of three areas, how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about our relationships, and how we feel about the world around us. She thinks COVID-19, specifically as a global pandemic, has affected each of those areas, and by extension, the coping mechanisms used to navigate the stress it’s causing.
“We’re seeing folks who may have previously identified with some of the activities they engaged in, or jobs that they had, those are changing,” she said. “Someone who lost employment that was really meaningful to them, or if they were engaged in a social activity they’re not allowed to do anymore, that can have a pretty big impact on someone’s sense of self, or their self esteem, because that is where they would find purpose to get up every morning, or a sense of worth for how they’re spending their day.”
Ms Willows said mental health and well-being can be a strong predictor for other areas in a person’s life, and it’s important to pay attention to it. She noted how maintaining good mental health is just as important, the same way maintaining good physical health is important, especially during a pandemic, to ensure we can get to the other side of this as best we can, together.
Having good coping skills throughout the pandemic is important as well. One simple coping mechanism is setting up routines, and making sure there’s still some kind of predictability in a time when things just aren’t predictable. Some people find it helpful to prioritize actions they have control over, reminding themselves of the things they’re able to influence and able to control, which helps people feel as though they’re a little bit more stable in their situation.
“Other things might have to do with how we handle how our bodies handle stress, and the hormones and endorphins that get created by that. That does involve good physical activity, around proper nutrition, and around engaging in activities that are helpful and hopeful for us in the long run in terms of our communities and our hobbies.”
One of the most important things to remember about struggling with mental health stresses right now is that a person is not alone in this.
“There are a lot of researchers who are suggesting that this is a culturally traumatic event that we’re going through,” said Ms Willows. “It’s overwhelming a lot of our ability to cope, and I think it’s important for folks to recognize that even though they might not have it as bad as someone else, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to get help. Someone who is struggling, regardless of their situation, we’d encourage them regardless of their situation to reach our and to be connecting to get that support.”