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Survey suggests fewer Canadians feel empathetic amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

A survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association and researchers at the University of British Columbia shows feelings of empathy have fallen during the COVID pandemic. File / Getty Images

Data gathered from a survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers indicates more Canadians are feeling less empathetic over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CMHA is sharing data collected from the survey as part of Mental Health Week as this year’s theme is the importance of empathy.

“Empathy is the ability to put ourselves into another person’s shoes,” said Phyllis O’Connor, executive director of the CMHA’s Saskatchewan division.

“It allows us to move beyond our initial response to jump in and fix things, which may mean we miss what they really need – to know they are not alone and that they have support.”

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The survey found that only 13 per cent of Canadians are feeling empathetic; the number recorded after the onset of the pandemic was 23 per cent.

Margaret Eaton, national CEO for the CMHA, suggests it’s worrying to see that some may be experiencing “empathy fatigue.”

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“The decline in empathy that we are seeing is concerning,” said Eaton in a statement from the CMHA. “If we are to resolve our conflicts in relationships, in society and globally, we need to understand one another, even when we don’t agree.”

Results from the survey show that 37 per cent of Canadians are worried about lost social connections while 37 per cent also said they feel there has been a decline in their mental health since the pandemic began.

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Thirty-nine per cent of respondents agreed they are concerned about being separated from friends and family, and about getting sick with COVID-19.

“The deterioration of social relationships that we see in the data comes at a time when we need each other more than ever,” suggested Dr. Emily Jenkins, a professor at UBC who co-led the research.

“Empathy is essential not only for building positive and healthy relationships, but also for reducing divisions between people, and in our communities. And the good news is, it is an emotional response that can be cultivated.”

The CMHA says more information on mental health and empathy can be found on the Mental Health Week website.

Mental Health Week runs from May 2 to 8 this year.

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