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Southwestern Public Health study shows indirect impact pandemic had on mental health, other issues

A new report from Southwestern Public Health sheds light on the indirect health impacts COVID-19 has had on the community regarding mental health, unemployment and other effects. Getty Images

A new report from Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) sheds light on the indirect health impacts COVID-19 has had on the community regarding mental health, unemployment, and other effects.

The report SWPH, which covers the Elgin County, Oxford County, and St. Thomas communities, shows that during the pandemic, the number of calls to St. Thomas police for mental health season almost doubled from 1,300 calls in 2019 to 2,200 calls in 2020.

Researchers also found an increase in both the number of sharps returned to the health unit through the needle and syringe program and emergency department visits related to opioid poisonings, mainly among those between the ages of 25 to 64.

Read more: Toronto Board of Health report outlines pandemic impact on children, young people

“The emphasis of the health care system during much of 2020 and 2021 was to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus and prevent hospitalizations and deaths,” says Carolyn Richards, program manager of foundational standards.

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“The impact of this pandemic is bigger than the virus alone, the things that we’re so familiar with about the illness and the hospitalizations and deaths, and there’s also all of these other impacts that came along with it and that have affected our community.”

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Richards says the impact on mental health is also seen in the number of emergency room visits related to self-harm.

“This is one that we saw stay flat in 2020 when all other visits decreased, so we would have expected it to decrease. We can’t say for sure there was an increase, but it really seems likely that those numbers increased because people were trying to stay away from the hospitals,” Richards said.

For Richards, one of the most significant indirect impacts was the rising unemployment rate.

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“It’s normally around six per cent each year, but in 2020, when COVID was really prevalent in the community, and we were experiencing provincial lockdowns, the employment rate increased to about nine per cent,” she said.

Between April and June 2020, the rates were exceptionally high, between 12 and 17 per cent.

Read more: Majority of Canadians optimistic about 2022 despite financial concerns: Ipsos poll

The report also shows that business bankruptcies increased in the first half of the pandemic, which can also be a contributing factor to the unemployment rate.

For Richards, the hope is that experts in these fields can use this information to help them find solutions.

The report on the impact of COVID-19 on the community is one of the community health status reports routinely compiled by SWPH to gauge the overall health of the community.

Researchers used information from community sources like the St. Thomas Police Department, hospitals, and other community partners to collect the data included in the report for 2020.

“We are definitely planning to update this report in the next year or two as we see how we want to see how these trends continue over time,” Richards said.

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