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B.C. residents have struggled with mental health impacts as the pandemic has progressed and they are encouraged to stay indoors. Photo: Negin Nia

COVID-19 affects everyone’s mental health but not equally

All Canadians have had their mental health and well-being impacted by the pandemic, but some individuals may be experiencing more of a toll than others.

By Negin Nia , in City Health , on December 1, 2020 Tags: , ,

Whether we realize it or not, doctors say, everyone is being affected psychologically by the pandemic.

Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, director at the Institute of Mental Health at UBC.

“The first thing people need to do is acknowledge that what is happening is real and that it is happening to all of us,” said Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, director at the Institute of Mental Health at UBC and head of the department of psychiatry.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, mental-health experts have been gathering data, conducting studies, and surveys examining the mental-health impacts.

“The special aspect of this problem is that it uniformly affects all of us to different degrees,” he said.

Dr. Quynh Doan, investigator and pediatric emergency physician at BC Children’s Hospital, said that although everyone is affected, the usual support systems are not in place.

“Usually, you would go to a friend or family member with your problems, but what happens when the problem is ongoing, and now all of your social-support system is experiencing a similar level of distress?” asked Doan

Dr. Quynh Doan, investigator and pediatric emergency physician at BC Children’s Hospital.

Although individuals are all being impacted mentally by the pandemic, it does not mean they are all being affected in the same way.

“Reaching out for help is appropriate but the management is different based on if you have an underlying mental disorder or if you are dealing with mental-health challenges due to stress from the pandemic,” said Doan.

An August study by Deloitte, titled “Uncovering the Hidden Iceberg,” estimated that 6.3 million to 10.7 million Canadians would be contacting a doctor for issues related to mental health during or after the pandemic.

“Many people have mental-health concerns right now, which means many people in the general population are feeling anxious and stressed, but this does not mean they have a mental-health disorder. However, prolonged stress and anxiety can lead to development of a mental disorder, so it is important to seek help when you need it,” said Yatham.

Government funding and resources available

Given the growing mental health impacts of the pandemic, the Canadian government is making more resources available to help during this difficult time.

In B.C., the government has acknowledged the toll the pandemic is taking on the public’s mental health. The province invested $5 million in April to help boost mental-health services, which have seen a surge in the number of referrals since the pandemic began.

Since the pandemic began, BounceBack, a free cognitive behavioural therapy program designed to help adults and youth 15 and older manage mental wellness online or over the phone, has experienced almost a 46 per-cent increase in referrals for adults and youth across the province.

In 2019, the program had 2,900 referrals between April to September. In 2020, they had 4,246 referrals between April to Sept.

“It makes a huge difference for folks just to know they have someone to call every couple of weeks to check up on them in this unprecedented time,” said Carmela Smythe, BounceBack team lead and community coach.

Doan, who works with youth and children, and is conducting a survey on the impact of COVID-19 on young Canadians, said it is healthy to seek help.

The Crisis Line Association of BC has seen a combined 26-per-cent increase for both 1800SUICIDE and 310 Mental Health Support from April to September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Similarly, the BC Crisis Centre has seen a 25-per-cent increase in calls from mid-April to September 2020 compared to the same time period last year.

“People call us for help navigating through different types of problems, but we are seeing that COVID is adding additional stress to whatever is happening to them. Therefore, more people recognize they cannot handle certain things on their own and are reaching out, which is great,” said Stacy Ashton, executive director at BC Crisis Centre.

The following services or resources provide help.