Coronavirus: Ontario residents bracing for mental health crisis triggered by COVID-19, poll suggests

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario announces expanded virtual mental health supports' Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario announces expanded virtual mental health supports
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo announced on Tuesday the government was rolling out expanded access to virtual and online mental health support this week. Ford said the supports will also be available for front line workers “whenever they need it.” – May 5, 2020

TORONTO – A new poll from one of Canada’s leading mental health organizations says Ontario residents are bracing for a mental health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey from the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association is the first in a series of three questionnaires meant to gauge the impact the outbreak and its various ripple effects will have on the way Ontario residents feel and behave.

READ MORE: Mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be ‘severe,’ expert warns

The majority of the 1,001 respondents to the online poll conducted by Pollara say they fear the effects COVID-19 will have on the national economy, the future for both older and younger generations, personal finances and the well-being of friends and family.

The survey found 53 per cent of participants worry about their own mental health as a result of the pandemic, while 67 per cent say they’re concerned about the toll on their loved ones.

Story continues below advertisement

The survey also found 23 per cent of respondents admit to increasing their use of substances such as alcohol, cannabis and tobacco.

CMHA Ontario says the survey’s findings all point to a looming surge in demand for mental health supports that the province’s existing systems simply aren’t equipped to handle.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“The poll confirms that Ontarians have figured it out and we’re headed for a mental health crisis,” Ontario division CEO Camille Quenneville said in a telephone interview.

Quenneville said Ontario’s mental health system was stretched thin prior to the pandemic, leaving little room to respond to the new demands caused by the widespread upheaval that’s taken place since COVID-19 became a public health emergency.

Quenneville said she was struck by survey results showing respondents were more willing to express concern for abstract issues and other people than admit to facing struggles themselves.

Story continues below advertisement

About 90 per cent of survey participants said they feared the pandemic would have a detrimental effect on the economy, with 69 per cent saying that translated to anxiety over their personal finances.

READ MORE: Virtual hangover? Lack of human interaction during coronavirus begins to wear Ontarians down

The poll found 79 per cent of participants worried about the future, with 87 per cent fearing for older generations and 71 per cent nervous for the effect on younger Canadians.

Quenneville said mental health struggles are almost inevitable given these wide-spread stress factors, adding the fact that only about half of survey respondents would admit to concern for their own mental health speaks to the powerful stigma that still prevails in much of society.

The poll’s findings around substance use also tell a cautionary tale, said Quenneville.

“They’re not fine,” she said of survey respondents who say they’re turning to booze and cannabis more often and at different times of the day than they did prior to the pandemic. “I worry a lot about people not piecing together the fact that this is about their mental health and the coping mechanisms they’re choosing.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario government expands virtual mental health services

The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error as they are not a random sample and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

Story continues below advertisement

Adrienne Spafford, CEO of Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, said data beyond the CMHA survey suggests provincial systems will see an influx of patients in the months ahead.

Spafford said that while many people using alcohol and drugs more regularly now will be able to revert to previous habits once public health restrictions ease, some won’t be able to do so.

READ MORE: Healthy habits slip lately? How to get them back on track

“We were already a system under strain,” she said, noting wait times for treatment could range from anywhere from six months to two years depending on both the patient’s needs and the part of the province they live in. “We need to make some pretty hefty investments in services and supports across the full continuum.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health, which oversees mental health in the province, recently announced $12 million to expand virtual and online supports during the pandemic, but would not comment on specific plans for the aftermath of the outbreak.

“Our government will continue to work to ensure that all Ontarians are truly supported on their journey toward mental wellness,” spokeswoman Hayley Chazan said in a statement.


Sponsored content