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Mental health services demand, wait lists steadily increasing amid third wave: Psychologist

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There’s no question the past year has been tough for many people, as the pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of life.

The Manitoba Psychological Society says demand and wait lists for mental health services has been steadily increasing over the course of the last year, and many psychologists are overwhelmed with demand amid the third wave.

“The ask and the need for services is increasing. It’s taking its toll on people and the wait lists are getting longer,” Manitoba Psychological Society president and clinical psychologist Dr. Jo Ann Unger told Global News.

“And my colleagues are actually reaching out to each other and saying ‘are you taking people? Because I’m getting calls and I can’t take them anymore. The waitlist is so long already’.”

Read more: ‘Stay in touch,’ exercise, breathe: Combating mental health challenges during COVID-19

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Unger also says the pandemic has forced many to turn back to mental health services.

“Clients who had finished their work and were going without services are now calling up their psychologist from the past and saying I’m struggling again,” she said.

Unger says with restrictions loosening in Manitoba in March, and the vaccine rollout underway, many were likely looking forward to a returning to a sense of normalcy this spring or summer. But with rising variant cases, the third wave, and additional restrictions announced this week, some may be losing sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Dreaming, imagining a future of a lovely summer, that’s actually really healthy. It’s healthy for us to have those hopes and dreams and hold onto those, but it’s hard then when expectations and hopes are challenged by some of the realities coming in,” Unger said.

“We’re being ask to, on a constant basis, shift for what is coming up ahead. And our brains like to do that, we like to imagine and plan and project and think about the future, (but) when there’s lots of uncontrollable factors that come at us on a continuous basis over a long period of time, that can certainly be draining.”

Read more: A year into the pandemic, mental health workers face burnout and soaring demands

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Experts say as time drags on, the effect on mental health is only getting worse.

“In general, anytime a stressor, like a pandemic for example, is prolonged and not acute and short term, we could possibly we seeing a larger psychological toll,” University of Manitoba psychology associate professor Natalie Mota said.

Mota says accepting factors you can’t control may help.

“Accepting reality for how it is, rather than how it should be or how you wish it was, and that may be easier said than done,” Mota said.

She also says it’s important to catch yourself when you’re thinking overly negative thoughts.

“One of the things a third wave can bring is increased negative thinking, kind of the worst-case scenarios or extreme language in our thoughts, like ‘I’ll never get to see my loved ones again or this is how it’s going to be from now on’,” she said. “If we kind of start catching and paying attention to some of those thoughts, they can be a little bit easier to try to reframe.”

She also says, go easy on yourself.

“This is a time where we might not always be our best selves,” she added. “Being gentle with ourselves, being kind to ourselves can help just a little bit.”

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