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Alliston CMHA shares mental health impact of COVID-19

July 30, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Things are starting to look a little more normal in New Tecumseth as it entered Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening.

A light at the end of the tunnel or sign of hope has been much needed for many Ontarians who struggle with mental health, following months of physical isolation and unprecedented levels of stress.

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) York and South Simcoe staff who operate out of Alliston told The Times they’ve seen an increase in prescribed medication use and non-prescription drug use, as people take higher doses to cope during the pandemic.

As well, they noticed an increase in loneliness during the pandemic, which has negatively affected people’s overall wellbeing, decreased their level of activity and caused suicidal ideation for some.

“Loneliness has become an epidemic in our society, which we know leads to a wide array of physical and mental health issues,” said Rebecca Shields, CEO of CMHA York Region and South Simcoe.

“Our branch is specifically tackling loneliness as a systemic cause of poor mental health, and we encourage anyone feeling isolated to reach out to a loved one, a neighbour or their local CMHA. The supports are available and the positive impact of asking for help can be enormous.”

CMHA told The Times there’s been an increase in mental health-related admissions and the duration of stays at area hospitals, since the start of the pandemic.

And more individuals have been calling the local CMHA branch for therapy and phone support as well.

Their Supportive Telephone Counselling Line has seen lots of traffic since its inception in March. It acts as a great tool for people who are struggling with their mental health.

Anyone looking for support can call 1-866-345-0183 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Elissa Mackonka, who works for the CMHA in Alliston, said they’ve received many different types of calls to the hotline.

“Some individuals call in about how to best support their loved ones who are elderly and isolated at this time,” she noted.

Others who have lost a loved one during COVID-19 have called in grieving, searching for help.

Elderly individuals living in retirement homes or nursing homes have called as well with worries about their own health as they express anxiety about contracting the virus from their family members or passing it on.

“When someone calls the supportive counselling line, we gather information and really listen to that person, giving immediate support in the moment, and also providing referrals to make sure they have the ongoing help they need during these challenging times,” said Mackonka.

CMHA says many of their calls involve gathering information from the caller, listening, providing immediate support at the moment and giving them referrals.

Although it’s been difficult for CMHA staff in Alliston to truly assess how clients have been doing without physically laying eyes on them, as some people aren’t always upfront about their condition, so staff heavily rely on body language and hygiene cues.

In terms of employment, the Alliston CMHA said their clients who are unemployed have been under stress but are coping much better than expected through the pandemic.

However, those who have remained employed are experiencing more undue hardship either from employers expecting too much, not providing the right education or safety protection, and the anxiety of working with the public during a pandemic.

Some clients who’ve been working have come to CMHA staff in Alliston for support and coping strategies as they face higher levels of stress from being overworked.

They say the general consensus among their unemployed clients who live in Alliston is that they don’t want to look for work at this time because of the safety risks involved with working in a public setting during a global pandemic.

But COVID-19 hasn’t been all bad. Staff from CMHA in Alliston told the Times they’ve seen some of their clients become more independent as they’ve been unable to offer as much support in-person. Many have learned how to better advocate for themselves.

There’s also been a boost in mental health awareness and for some, the pandemic has brought out a more caring or compassionate side of them.

Anyone looking for CMHA resources related to COVID-19 can visit to learn more.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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