‘We’re at a breaking point’: Addressing mental health during COVID-19

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Nearly 40 per cent of people say their mental health has declined due to COVID-19, but the situation is more precarious for those who are considered more vulnerable. Callum Smith reports. – Oct 17, 2020

The Canadian Mental Health Association says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on people’s well-being.

According to a survey done in conjunction with CMHA, nearly 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has declined due to COVID-19. The impact is even worse for people who are already vulnerable.

Atlantic Wellness, a charity organization in Moncton, offers free mental health services to people between 12 and 21 years old.

“I think over the last few months, what we’ve seen is there’s certainly been an increase in anxiety and depression,” says Andrew LeBlanc, the centre’s executive director. “I think the isolation has obviously been something that’s taken its toll on everyone, especially our young people.”

Read more: Demand for mental health services still rising amid COVID-19 pandemic: CMHA Middlesex

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Angie Daigle says her 12-year-old son Braydon Daigle has struggled with anxiety for several years.

Things worsened for Braydon when the pandemic first made its way into the Maritimes, cancelling school, sports and shutting down other social avenues.

“Everything just came to a stop,” Angie says. “I found he went and gravitated toward video games, hid in his room, didn’t come out much, didn’t talk.”

Angie Daigle says she hopes talking about her family’s mental health will help others reach out and seek the help they need. Callum Smith / Global News

Braydon’s mother has struggled with her own mental health for about 14 years, living with anxiety and depression.

The family has supported each other throughout, but Daigle says it’s not easy.

Braydon made a local hockey team this year, but his first day of practice was cancelled the day the Moncton region went back to the orange phase of New Brunswick’s COVID-19 recovery.

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“Hockey isn’t only a passion of his,” Angie says, “it’s also a coping mechanism, a therapy.”

Daigle says even with a psychiatrist and support from the family, moving forward is a challenge.

“He is now on medications for his anxiety,” Angie says. “At 12-years-old, you don’t want to pump them full of medications… You want to get them the therapy they need to learn how to cope with life, anxiety, stress”

Read more: Canadians reporting higher levels of anxiety, depression amid the pandemic

The Canadian Mental Health Association says waitlists to see experts can be lengthy.

“That can range from six to 12-18 months depending on where a person resides in the province,” says Christa Baldwin the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick.

But Baldwin says it’s still vital to reach out for help because there are short-term alternatives for people in need.

“The growth in mental health need is certainly increasing during this pandemic,” she says. “We are here and we are available… You are not alone.”

Click to play video: 'How to keep your mental health in check this fall' How to keep your mental health in check this fall
How to keep your mental health in check this fall – Oct 9, 2020

While wait times can be shorter for seeking therapy in the private sector, that can be too costly, says Daigle.

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She says aside from isolation, there’s increased financial stress and concerns about domestic violence during COVID-19.

Meanwhile, LeBlanc says more community collaboration and provincial investment is needed for preventative mental health care such as youth programming, social networking or counselling.

He says the costs will only add up if those preventative measures aren’t implemented.

“We’re at a breaking point right now,” he tells Global News.

“I think what you’re seeing is clinicians across the province are overloaded, everyone is carrying waitlists. New Brunswickers are struggling to get into services.

Read more: Front-line nurses suffering psychological distress, burn-out amid COVID-19: association

“Things are going to continue to get really bad,” he says. “And the challenge with that is, if we don’t start investing in the front end, if we don’t start to be preventative in addressing mental health, it’s going to cost the government a whole lot more on the back end when that leads into more issues of substance abuse, homelessness.”

But Baldwin says the provincial government is looking at pilot projects and says to be mindful of “new things that are hopefully coming out shortly, from government, to help with those wait times.”

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For Daigle, she just hopes sharing her family’s story will help others come forward and seek the help they need.

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