The COVID-19 pandemic has a societal impact. It is like a wave that crashed over us all and every single person has been impacted in some way. That loss in our sense of control that most people have in their lives can be extremely hard to cope with. Those of us with chronic illness are very familiar with this though. We learn this sense of control we have over our lives is mostly an illusion and life is vastly more unpredictable than we want it to be.
However, for everyone to experience a sudden and abrupt loss of control over many factors in their lives spikes anxiety and depression levels. How could it not? Job instability, job loss, isolation, fear and worry about the future, fear and anxiety about loved ones and about yourself and loads of life stresses that pile on top of each other. No matter how people try to cope and adapt the punches keep coming. It is having a massive psychological impact on the population.
“It’s a recipe for mental health issues,” said Dr. David Dozois, a professor of psychology at Western University and a member of MHRC’s board of directors.
“We know that social isolation and loneliness are strong predictors of mortality — they predict life expectancy better than smoking, obesity and diabetes,” Dozois said. “So being lonelier and socially isolated has a huge impact on us physically.”Toronto Star
We know the economic impact is going to take a long time to recover from. There is a lot of uncertainty there. We do not know yet the long-term mental health impact the pandemic will have on the overall population.
“It can sometimes take a while for the impact to even really be understood,” Eaton said, and while much remains unknown, she said it’s important to be prepared by monitoring the issue in real time so mental health services can respond adequately when the pandemic’s toll becomes more clear.Toronto Star
We keep hearing about the ‘new normal’ and these ‘unprecedented times’ but these are chaotic times. And all the news seems to be bad news. The future is so uncertain. These are anxiety-inducing times.
Of the polls conducted during the pandemic, Mental Health Research Canada was the sole organization to ask participants about their pre-pandemic anxiety levels. About five per cent of participants in April’s survey said they experienced high levels of anxiety before COVID-19.
As the pandemic unfolded, the number of people who characterized their anxiety levels as moderate to severe jumped to around 20 per cent, quadrupling pre-pandemic rates. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions reported even higher levels of anxiety at 38 per cent. These results remained fairly consistent from April to October.Toronto Star
if your life changes dramatically and you don’t know if it will get better any time soon depression risk factors are going to increase. What if you lose your career? What if the job market is flooded with other people looking for work and no matter what you do you can’t seem to get a job? What about bills and obligations and family and mortgage… What if when you do find a job it pays significantly less because the market is so flooded? How can you manage your finances? That is just one major life factor that can lead to depression if for a long duration you struggle to find work and it just doesn’t happen. Self-worth tanks. Anxiety increases. You feel defeated. What if… what if…
Major depression affects about 4.7 per cent of those age 15 and over in Canada, according to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey on Mental Health.
Mental Health Reseach Canada’s survey reveals about four per cent of those surveyed said they experienced severe depression before the pandemic. As COVID unfolded, that number more than doubled to around 10 to 13 per cent.
Other surveys show even higher numbers, particularly with a younger cohort: CAMH’s survey revealed around 24 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 39 reported feeling depressed as of November.Toronto Star
What is deeply concerning is the rise in suicidal ideation:
Perhaps the most alarming trend seen is the increase in those having suicidal thoughts over the course of the pandemic. In countries where suicide rates are monitored more frequently than Canada, like Japan and South Korea, an increase in the number of suicides has already been reported.
CMHA’s surveys asked participants in May and October whether they’ve had thoughts of suicide. In the May survey, 6.4 per cent answered yes. That increased to 10 per cent in October.
Data from Statistics Canada indicates that 2.5 per cent of the population reported having suicidal thoughts in pre-pandemic 2019.Toronto Star
What is the impact on society?
One impact this is having on society is that conversations about mental health are becoming more normalized. More people are thinking about their mental well-being and different coping strategies.
And as society shifts to thinking about their mental health and trying to find ways to manage it we can only hope that the government will follow suit and provide the resources that people need.
And in Canada in some sense we are seeing some funds being funneled into mental health:
All three mental health organizations have presented their survey findings to policy makers in various levels of government, and some have listened. The Ontario government announced $323 million in mental health funding this year, $147 million of which is one-time funding to address mental health-care capacity issues due to COVID-19.
The federal government has also allocated funding of its own: $240.5 million announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May to expand virtual mental health care during the pandemic, and $10.2 million announced by Health Minister Patty Hajdu to support research on COVID-19 and its relation to mental health and substance use.Toronto Star
What sort of changes will we see in the future?
We can’t anticipate the long-term impact of society’s mental health and how society responds to that impact. We may be more open to talking about it. There may be more online resources available to us in the future. However, what we really want, in Canada, is that therapy psychologists and psychotherapists are under public health care. Not out of pocket or through insurance. Because that limits access. It is true that most psychologists have a scale based on income but it is still out of pocket. I have no budget so not like I would go to therapy at this time. We want it to be available as needed for as long as it is needed for everyone that needs it. That is the change I would like to see.
“My wishful thinking is, maybe the fact that 40 per cent of Canadians now have been impacted and understand what it’s like to experience anxiety, means there’s more willingness for the public to actually push politicians to have that long term built-in support, not just for the pandemic, but after,” she said.
“But I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Eaton said.Toronto Star