‘A pandemic of its own’: How COVID-19 is impacting mental health

Click to play video: '‘A pandemic of its own’: How COVID-19 is impacting mental health'
‘A pandemic of its own’: How COVID-19 is impacting mental health
In Part 2 of Global Peterborough's four-part series on the community impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Caley Bedore examines the affects the coronavirus pandemic is having on our mental health. – Nov 17, 2020

There is one symptom of COVID-19 that you don’t test for with a swab and that doesn’t require contact tracing or a 14-day quarantine.

Yet it is something many of us have been dealing with since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic back in the spring.

“The pandemic has had a profound effect on mental health,” said Heather Holland, executive director at Peterborough Youth Services.

“We are seeing a real increase in service demand, at the same time as it becomes more challenging to respond full speed.”

Holland said Peterborough Youth Services, which focuses on youth justice and youth mental health, has noticed a disturbing trend.

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“In July and August this year, we saw more than double the number of calls come in on our line … and that reflects provincial and national data that we are seeing,” she said. “Demand outweighs supply at this point. Simply put, it has made a bad situation worse.”

Statistics Canada performed a crowdsource survey earlier this year. It is a smaller sample taken to get an idea of the bigger picture. Some 46,000 Canadians participated and findings indicated a decline in mental health. Here are some of the results:

  •  24 per cent reported poor to fair mental health, up from eight per cent in 2018
  •  52 per cent said their mental health had declined since physical distancing began
  •  88 per cent indicated they’d experienced a symptom of anxiety in the previous two weeks
  •  64 per cent of youth aged 15-24 reported a decline in mental health overall

Holland said people in the industry are calling the mental health impact a “pandemic of its own” — one that she expects will continue. 

“When there is a full return to in-person services, I think we could see another increase for service access at that time because the effects will still be there.”

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Holland said there are a number of reasons someone could be experiencing a decline in mental health.

“Social isolation is huge. A lot of the youth we are connected to talk about the loss of extracurriculars,” she said. “Increased financial stress and that constant low-grade anxiety around COVID-19 can exacerbate other anxieties or fears.”

Jim Russell, executive director for the United Way Peterborough and District, said the indirect mental health impact is being felt across a number of agencies.

“People are isolating, they are staying at home. They are doing it for the right reasons, but it is also compounding mental health issues for people and for families,” he said.

Russell added that while the numbers are concerning, they show people are more willing to talk about mental health.

“We are feeling freer to have those discussions,” Russell said. “We are normalizing the ability to talk about our mental health like we would our physical health and that hasn’t always been the case.”

Holland said that discussion is important to break down the existing stigma.

“There is so much attention on mental health in our discourse around the pandemic that it helps to break down the stigma further and that ultimately increases access,” Holland said.

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“When people are more comfortable putting their hand up and saying, ‘Look, I need help with what I am struggling with right now.’”

Holland said the partnerships between Peterborough Youth Services and agencies like The United Way are essential for meeting that increased demand. She said this year, funds from the United Way will go to the community response team for crisis outreach and the clinical counselling program.

When it comes to improving mental health, Holland said it is important to stay connected in any way you safely can and to add physical activity into your schedule.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but we have to take care of ourselves during the process.”

You can contact Peterborough Youth Services at 705-743-1681 and you can connect with the Canadian Mental Health Association crisis hotline at 1-833-456-4566.

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