Fighting this pandemic has been incredibly stressful for everyone and especially for the thousands of frontline workers across the country. Human beings are very capable at adapting, however, our resiliency during times of crisis cannot be sustained indefinitely. The cracks in our population’s mental health that formed during the first wave of the pandemic have grown wider and I believe we are in the midst of a parallel crisis to COVID-19.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reported that 40 per cent of respondents to a survey described a deterioration in their mental health during the pandemic. Anxiety, stress, sadness and depression were the most common emotional responses to COVID-19. Loneliness is another byproduct of the lockdowns as people have been forced to isolate from their families and friends, groups that typically act as our support network during difficult and emotionally troubling periods.
It’s not just our health or the health of our loved ones people are worried about. It’s also the state of our personal finances as economic instability and concerns about employment has hit many sectors. According to Statistics Canada, the country’s labour market lost 212,800 jobs in January, marking an unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent. In the same CMHA survey report, 39 per cent of respondents reported worry or stress about their finances, while an additional 26 and 20 per cent cited concern over job loss and being able to provide enough food to meet their family’s needs.
We also can’t forget the impact the pandemic is having on those who continue to work on the frontlines. I know firsthand how exhausted health care employees are, in hospitals, clinics and in long term care and retirement homes. These incredible women and men have been giving their all to care for their patients or residents. And they will continue to do so, but I worry about the mental toll that this health crisis is taking and will continue to even after we finally defeat COVID-19.
Now is the time to be bold and implement mental health supports for everyone who is struggling. As a physician, I am frustrated by the fact that our health care system distinguishes between mental and physical health. They are not separate, they are equal. Segregating the two perpetuates harmful stigma around mental health and keeps people from accessing the help and professional services they need. To entirely defeat COVID-19 we must treat all the symptoms this pandemic has brought, including mental.
To fight COVID-19, I have been preaching the three W’s: ‘Wash’ your hands, ‘Wear’ your mask, and ‘Watch’ your distance. And, I’d like to add one more to the list of W’s: be ‘Wary’ of changes in your mental health and those around you. These can include feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, stress, fear, irritability, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping or loss of interest in things you normally enjoy. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or someone around you, please ask for help.
Below are some resources that you may find helpful if you or someone you know is having challenges with their mental health. If you are struggling, it’s important you acknowledge it and seek the support you need. You are not alone and there are people ready, willing and able to help. There’s a quote I recently read that talks about our collective experience of COVID-19: “We’re not all in the same boat, we’re in the same storm. Some of us are in yachts, some are in canoes, and others are swimming.” In this scenario, I hope everyone has access to a life jacket.
Nothing about COVID-19 is easy, and we are still in the storm. Let’s be kind and supportive of each other, and we will get through this together.
- University of Toronto: Managing your mental health during COVID-19 (free 3-hour online course)
- Yale University: The science of well-being (free online course)
- CAMH: Coping while in isolation
- CAMH: Mental health playbook for business leaders
- CAMH: Self-care tips and strategies
- CSTS: Self-care for health care workers
- Down Dog Yoga: App for health care workers
- Headspace: Weathering the storm (free meditation series)
Support, Grief & Bereavement
- CAMH: Online peer-to-peer discussion forum
- Family First: Grief during COVID-19
- Good Grief: Virtual programming and family support
- Good Grief: Funeral during a pandemic
- Hospice Palliative Care Ontario: Psychosocial and spiritual support flyer
- Chiefs of Ontario: Regional assistance for members in urban centres
- Family TLC: Counselling Services
Supporting Kids During COVID-19