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COVID-19 is taking a toll on the mental health of Canadians

July 9, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Canada is recognized globally for providing its citizens with a high standard of living, but, since the start of the pandemic, that standard has been declining.

Canadians are facing record levels of unemployment, economic uncertainty and a collective feeling of uneasiness as the pandemic drags on into its fifth month.

Almost everyone has been mentally impacted to some extent by the pandemic, but those who were struggling psychologically beforehand are now fighting twice as hard to get by.

“Pre-COVID, there were a lot of disparities that impacted people’s wellbeing but we’ve seen with COVID that all of these issues of health equity or inequity have been exasperated,” said Susan Dobson, Executive Director of the Krasman Centre, a drop-in facility that offers peer support and addictions/mental health services.

Close to 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has declined due to COVID-19 and roughly 20 per cent are using more alcohol, according to a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The same survey shows 18 percent of individuals who were already struggling with their mental health had suicidal thoughts since the start of the pandemic, which is a four-fold increase, directly attributed to COVID-19.

Many mental health support services have moved to a virtual format, but this style of counselling isn’t always accessible or effective, Dobson noted.

“The reality is that for some people we support, virtual supports don’t always meet the need they have,” she explained. “For some folks, especially those living in poverty or maybe those who don’t know how to use technology, it creates a lot of barriers.

“Because of that, we quickly modified our centre to what we call a drop by centre rather than a drop-in.”

The facility has stayed open throughout the pandemic, allowing people to come to its door to access help without entering the facility, while maintaining physical distancing.

“Our staff have been there with all the infection prevention control measures and PPE, supporting them at the door whether it be for brief peer support…or providing basic needs that folks might have,” Dobson noted.

She said the Krasman Centre gives out clothing, outdoor survival items and non-perishables, which is crucial as food insecurity has been compounded by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, July’s hotter temperatures rising past 30°C have created a greater need for access to water among homeless or impoverished individuals who the centre serves.

“We’re trying to keep people hydrated and trying to connect however briefly it may be to provide peer support and hear what people are struggling with,” said Dobson.

“Some folks have come by and even if they didn’t have a particular material need, some express that just coming and saying hello and seeing a familiar face, in a time of great isolation…it means a lot to them,” she continued.

“Being socially connected has a positive impact on people’s well-being and that’s a big part of who we are and what we do.”

Dobson said many of those working in the mental health and addictions sector foresee a larger need for their services going forward as the impact of the lockdown and pandemic are still being realized.

“Be aware that we’ll probably continue to see the mental health impacts of this. Not only because of the direct link to COVID but the compounding issues of other social determinants of health inequities that exist,” she noted.

Poor mental health, addictions, and homelessness are often a symptom of larger societal problems such as poverty and a lack of affordable housing.

Meanwhile, a decline in mental health as a result of the pandemic is not an abnormal reaction and people’s feelings about it are absolutely valid, Dobson stressed

She said some activities that may help people’s mental wellbeing include physical exercise, safely getting out into nature, meditation and expressing oneself through the arts whether it be visual or music related.

“I think having a forum to express those feeling is important,” Dobson noted.

Anyone who is in need of immediate mental health support can call the Krasman Centre’s Warm Line and Peer Crisis Support Services at 1-888-777-0979, which runs 24/7.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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