By Zahraa Al-khalidi
The pandemic has virtually affected all aspects of our lives and as a result we are experiencing what mental healthcare professionals have termed the mental health or “echo” pandemic. This is inevitable given the stressors placed on young adults in addition to the lack of supports available to counteract that stress. The economic recession and government-mandated closures have resulted in countless jobs lost and have also created a lot of uncertainty for the future of the job market for young people just starting out in their careers.
(Data graph source via CANADIAN GUV)
Those out of a job or now strictly working or learning remotely have lost their sense of normalcy and may be experiencing a lack of motivation and feelings of loneliness and isolation from the lack of face-to-face interactions with peers or co-workers. Further, many adults in their 20s do not live with family or have children and partners and therefore may spend months at a time completely isolated. Young people are struggling to find outlets for this stress and anxiety given that their usual recreational activities that they used for self-care are greatly reduced. Despite the strict lockdown rules and the new world order, we live in, Sabrina Fardella finds a way to battle through her mental health and COVID-19 every day.
Fardella highlights her struggles with mental health and how COVID-19 has affected her mental health and gives us an insight into her little world.
Not being able to see friends in person, go to gyms, throw around a frisbee in a park or even dine out, means that individuals are simply playing eat, sleep and work on repeat. Persistent anxiety, with no way to remedy it and plenty of time on your hands to overthink and dwell on the negatives, is the perfect storm for the development of depression. Unfortunately rates of self-reported anxiety and depression continue to climb rapidly as the pandemic progresses.
This map shows us the amount of mental health cases recorded per province in Canada since COVID-19 has started
40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated since March, with the decline more pronounced in those who are unemployed (61 per cent), those with a pre-existing mental health issue (61 per cent), younger people ages 18-24 (60 per cent), Indigenous peoples (54 per cent), those identify as LGBTQ2+ (54 per cent) and those with a disability (50 per cent). Almost half of women (45 per cent) and a third of men (34 per cent) say their mental health has declined.
“There is no obvious end in sight, and given the widespread effects of the pandemic on individual’s lives, we cannot expect that the loosening of restrictions will immediately result in improved mental health. For many, depression and anxiety has become their unceasing reality.”
Said Hannah Goodman who works for Certified listeners society. Goodman explains to us how mental health has changed during this pandemic.
“Cold weather, uncertainty, eroded social networks and restrictions on holiday gatherings are hitting at a time when people are already anxious, hopeless and fearful that things are going to get worse,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “I am afraid that many people are in such despair that they can’t see past it.”
Of great concern is the sharp increase in suicidality this fall, with one in 10 Canadians (10 per cent) experiencing recent thoughts or feelings of suicide, up from six per cent in the spring and 2.5 per cent throughout pre-pandemic. Suicidal thoughts and feelings are even higher in various subgroups of the population, including those who identify as LGBTQ2+ (28 per cent), with existing mental illness or mental health issues (27 per cent), with a disability (24 per cent), ages 25-34 (21 per cent) and 18-24 (19 per cent) and who are Indigenous (20 per cent).
(Data graph source via CAMH)
“We are seeing a direct relationship between social stressors and declining mental health,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “As the pandemic wears on and cases and related restrictions rise, a good proportion of our population is suffering. Particularly concerning are the levels of suicidal thinking and self-harm, which have increased exponentially since before the pandemic and are further magnified in certain sub-groups of the population who were already experiencing stigma, exclusion, racism and discrimination.”
The mental health problem in Canada is being exacerbated by COVID-19, which is both exacerbating and leading to it. The pandemic’s health, economic, and social effects are having an effect on the population’s mental health, with some groups at higher risk of experiencing more serious problems. Fortunately, policymakers at all levels have acknowledged COVID-19’s detrimental effect on mental wellbeing and are working to ensure that services, supports, and treatment are accessible. However, more is needed. COVID-19’s negative mental health effects are likely to continue for a long time, putting more strain on Canada’s already overburdened mental health system. It is time for governments and decision-makers to continue to step up and make mental health a priority by investing in a long-term, system wide response. It is time to recognize that mental health is health.