The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified Canadians’ feelings of stress and anxiety, according to data released by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
In partnership with UBC researchers, the CMHA conducted a nationwide monitoring survey on the mental health impacts of COVID-19.
The data, which surveyed 3,027 people, shows “alarming levels” of despair, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness in Canadians, researchers say.
According to the research, 71% of people surveyed indicated they were worried about the second wave of the virus, and 58% worried about a loved one or family member dying. Only 21% said they felt hopeful.
As we enter the ninth month of the pandemic, 40% of Canadians said their mental health had deteriorated since March. The number jumps to 60% for those aged 18 to 24, and to 61% for people who are unemployed.
“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,” said Margaret Eaton, the 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.”
Researchers say the sharp increase in suicidal ideations is of great concern.
Before the pandemic, 2.5% of Canadians reported recent thoughts or feelings of suicide. That number rose to 6% in the spring, but now sits at 10%.
Parents are under particular pressure, with 13% reporting having experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings, and 27% worrying about putting food on the table. Almost 50% of parents with children under the age of 18 reported financial concerns caused by COVID-19.
“We are seeing a direct relationship between social stressors and declining mental health,” said lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC.
“As the pandemic wears on and cases and related restrictions rise, a good proportion of our population is suffering.”
Unfortunately, the research shows that few Canadians are getting the support they need, and many have resorted to unhealthy coping strategies.
Of the people surveyed, 17% reported increasing their use of substances “as a way to cope,” and 20% increased their alcohol use. Use of cannabis and prescription medication have increased by 9% and 7%, respectively.
According to Eaton, Canada’s mental healthcare system was not meeting people’s needs even before the pandemic hit.
“There has been a chronic underfunding of community-based mental health services and a reliance on intensive, high-cost services like hospitals and acute care,” Eaton said.
“If we fund community-level interventions, this will alleviate pressure on an acute-care system already hit hard by COVID-19—and get people the help they need sooner.”
To date, Canada has seen 389,775 COVID-19 cases and 12,325 deaths.