Things may have been on the mend, but the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has put new mental health strains on people, with the Canadian Mental Health Association seeing a stark increase in calls recently.
“We’ve been hearing over the past few months and particularly over the past few weeks a real level of exhaustion from people. Kind of this fatigue has set in, in terms of finding ways to decide what to do next and how to cope with the stress of Omicron,” explains CMHA Vernon executive director Julia Payson.
The amount of people calling the crisis centre to seek help has significantly risen — the good news people are reaching out and getting help.
“We are getting increased calls and in December, we are just looking at the numbers coming in, and they are higher than last year and our November numbers are higher than the year before. So even when we were in the thick of our first COVID winter, we are seeing much higher calls now.”
New COVID-19 restrictions, and particularly health-care workers overwhelmed by the pandemic for nearly two years now, have led to severe mental health challenges.
Dr. Heather McEachern runs a private psychology practice in Kelowna and says the effects of the pandemic have now become a chronic stressor.
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“By definition, if something is going on for over two years it is considered to be a plateau or chronic. Our tolerance for acute stress is different than our tolerance for chronic stress — and we are entering the chronic stage.”
McEachern adds health-care workers have unique challenges, being on the front lines of managing the pandemic.
“Health-care workers are in a very long sprint, which is getting very intolerable. I’ve talked to them,” McEachern said.
“To hear someone say, ‘I’ve been in a hazmat suit for two years now delivering service and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,’ is very difficult.”
She says the important thing is to seek help if you need it and not be afraid of being vulnerable.
“If you don’t ask you won’t receive, so do let people know if you are feeling lonely or isolated. Do let people know if it’s a struggle to manage your household, your children. It is just a gentle statement that you make that might bring the right people forward to fill some gaps in your world.”
Payson explains that it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, with people getting tired of the pandemic that continues to rage on.
“We are in what could be called the COVID whiplash phase. I mean, we thought we were getting there and we got right back to a place of different restrictions and different risks,” Payson said.
“People having to come back to this approach to COVID after things were getting so much better has definitely been harder for people.”
With the new restrictions shutting down things like gyms and decreasing our social interaction, Payson adds the uncertainty is what makes it even more difficult for people.
“Every time we have to change our approach to wellness for ourselves, it’s difficult. We have to process our stress and we are having different ways to do that right now and I think we all have to give each other the grace and the time to see this is what I need to feel better.”