COVID-19 pandemic taking toll on Canadians’ mental health: survey

Click to play video: 'Self-isolation and your mental health'
Self-isolation and your mental health
WATCH: Alicia Draus checks in with Maritimers to see how they’re coping with the new reality of self-isolation – Apr 3, 2020

According to a recent survey by Morneau Shepell, the majority of Canadians are finding that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a negative impact on their mental health.

In the latest Mental Health Index released by Morneau Shepell, mental health has dropped 12 points to 63, a score typically only seen when people are experiencing major life disruptions and mental health risk.

The results aren’t surprising for Danielle Whalen, the director of clinical services with Atlantic Wellness.

“I think it’s the uncertainty for one, of when will this end and when will we know when we can go back to our regular everyday schedules and lifestyles,” said Whalen.

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The pandemic is impacting people in different ways, and what is triggering stress and anxiety in people differs from person to person.

For Halifax resident Sarah Parker, the biggest challenge is not having her normal supports available, she says.

“One of the major resources I’m missing right now is HRM public libraries,” said Parker.

“It’s a huge central part of the community and for myself it’s a way to socialize, to meet people. I use it for access to computers and printers.”

Parker says she’s been diagnosed with depression in the past, but with guidance she’s been taking good care of her mental health.

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“It’s been really interesting watching now how my mood has deteriorated over the last few weeks,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Make time to take care of your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic'
Make time to take care of your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Damir Allen understands the feeling. He rents a room in family’s basement, and is out of work due to the pandemic.

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“Time is not really having meaning anymore. I’m losing track of what day it is, I’m having trouble getting to sleep,” he said.

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When the pandemic started it was financial worries that triggered his anxiety, he says, but more recently, self-isolation is taking more of a toll on his mental health.

“I miss being able to go and explore,” he said.

“That is one of my favourite things, to just go out and wander around. I miss being able to see the ocean.”

For others, the virus itself is cause for anxiety.

Kasia Roy had been living in Quebec. With her husband away for work, she moved in with her mother in Halifax to have some support making it through the pandemic, but she’s worried about her son, who already has health complications.

“I had a lot of anxiety attacks over the fact that if my son were to catch this it would be very, very dangerous to him,” said Roy.

Roy says she has a history of anxiety and depression, so when her anxiety attacks started up again she immediately called her doctor. She has medication for when the anxiety gets too much, but she’s developed other coping mechanisms, as well.

“I video call a lot with my friends, just, ‘how are you?’ which really helps,” she said. “Calling other people and talking to them.”

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Roy encourages anyone experiencing anxiety for the first time to reach out to someone who’s gone through it before. She says already she’s sharing some of her calming techniques including proper breathing with her friends who are feeling anxious for the first time.

While no one can predict how long this pandemic will continue, experts recommend taking control of what you can to cope.

“Definitely creating some kind of schedule,” said Whalen.

“Something that has you up and doing something every day, trying to accomplish small little tasks.”

It’s a practice that Parker is putting in place: getting up and going to bed every day and focusing on at least one task a day.

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“I give myself a goal to accomplish, so today the dishes absolutely have to be done. If anything else gets done, great, but the dishes have to be done,” said Parker.

“That’s really helped by giving me something to work towards and show myself that things are actually being accomplished, and I’m not just sitting here looking at blank walls.”

Click to play video: 'Taking care of mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic'
Taking care of mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic

There are also mental health crisis lines available 24/7, including the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 and in Nova Scotia the provincial mental health crisis line at 1-888-429-8167.

Nova Scotia has also fast-tracked its launch of an online mental health tool called TAO (Therapy Assistance Online). The online program has a variety of resources and interactive programs to help people take care of their mental health.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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