As Canadians weave their way through the COVID-19 pandemic mental health professionals are warning of a second pandemic — the mental health pandemic.
The impact for those who test positive for COVID-19 can bring up feelings they’ve never felt before and those feelings can last even after recovery. On Nov. 9, a study was published in The Lancet that found that 18 per cent of COVID-19 patients developed a mental health issue like depression, anxiety or dementia.
“Emotions that we never thought we felt, or have never felt before can certainly rear up for us,” said Cathy Keough, director of counselling initiative at the Calgary Counselling Centre.
Keough told Global News that a person’s mental health can be affected when they’ve been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening disease.
“I think when people are diagnosed, they’re initially feeling very shocked and scared,” she said.
“You want to be able to reassure yourself, but also reassure others in your home that may be around you… so it’s (a question of) how do you prepare yourself?
“If you’re on your own… how do you inform other people? How do you choose who you talk to? You don’t need to broadcast it to everyone, you want to be able to pick and select people who will be supportive and helpful.”
Mario Toneguzzi, who tested positive for COVID-19 in March of last year, told Global News that while he didn’t experience depression, he certainly felt anxiety and stress after his diagnosis.
“For me, I was locked up in my room for an entire month — I could not leave my bedroom, so there was a little bit of stress involved there, and cabin fever,” he said.
Although Toneguzzi has since been given a clean bill of health, he said there has still been lingering anxiety after hearing about the experience of others who have had COVID-19.
“I try not to think about it too much, but every once in a while I hear people… I had a friend of mine recently on Facebook post that he went through the COVID period… but now he’s getting lingering issues, including gastrointestinal issues, including massive headaches, including psoriasis.
“That just got me thinking, holy man, is there anything I should be aware of?
“The problem is, nobody can tell you a straight answer to that.”
Keough said it’s not uncommon for COVID-19 survivors to experience feelings like shame, guilt, or stigma after they’ve made it through the virus.
“They could be finding themselves running their mind over and over… ‘how did I get this? Where did I get this? Did I follow all the protocols and practices? Am I putting other people at risk?’
“Our mind just kind of starts to go and will open up other pathways that aren’t even answerable, and that’s part of the stress reaction,” she said.
Reaching out to mental health professionals, or calling support lines that have been established during the pandemic might be a way to alleviate some of that stress.
“The important thing is to stay connected to what you’re feeling,” she said, “to be able to monitor what you’re thinking and to continue to reach out to other people.”