Canadians struggle with mental health worsens as COVID-19 continues: survey

Credit: Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko

A recent Angus Reid survey found more than a third of Canadians are struggling with their mental health.

The survey of 1,509 Canadians between Jan. 18 and 20 reported that 36 per cent reported mental health struggles before Omicron became the dominant variant. That reflects an increase of more than 10 per cent since the variant became the dominant COVID-19 strain in mid-December, the survey said.

The survey also found 23 per cent of Canadians are twice as likely to report they are feeling “depressed,” compared to the 12 per cent who would say they’re happy.

The online survey, which reported a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, found Canadians are seeing struggles with anxiety worsen within their families and social circles as the pandemic drags on.

In addition, 66 per cent of respondents reported depression and anxiety in their social circles worsened during the pandemic, and 35 per cent indicated it’s a significant problem in their circle.

Canadians are pessimistic about the outlook for 2022. Seven per cent say they are “barely getting by,” and half of Canadians, 51 per cent, believe the pandemic will not end in 2022, the survey said.

Dr. Melanie Badali, a registered psychologist at North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in Vancouver, B.C., doesn’t put all the blame on Omicron and COVID-19.

“Mental health and illness do not occur in a vacuum,” Badali said. “When we talk about mental health, we need to consider social determinants, economic factors, other health status, racism, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, and generation, among other factors.

“There are multiple intersections of wellbeing and factors beyond an individual’s control,” she said.

This has created issues for people who care for others, said Dr. Taslim Alani-Verjee, the founder, director and clinical psychologist for Silm Centre for Mental Health in North York, Ont.

She said caregiver burnout is an issue that has been exacerbated during the pandemic.

Alani-Verjee said there is less predictability and more stress.

“We all just have our own stuff. And it makes it so much harder to take care of other people’s stuff,” she said.

But, doing the little things such as making a meal or ensuring a caregiver is taking care of themselves goes a long way, Alani-Verjee said.

A key is providing anyone who needs it a space to feel their feelings and not trying to change the way they are feeling, she said.

“It’s not our job to cheer people up, it’s not our job to help them see the bright side,” Alain-Verjee said. “It’s all perspective but, if a situation is crummy or the situation is hard, they are allowed to feel crummy and frustrated about it, make sure they feel that their emotions are ok and valid.”

Gender and age gaps among those who seek or receive help persist in Canada. Something that is not uncommon but hopefully is changing, Alani-Verjee said.

Canadians over 55 are less likely to open up to friends or loved ones about mental health, and men in general are less likely to talk about these types of issues, the survey said.

“There is a lot of stigma around men’s mental health, especially among certain age groups and cultural groups. It’s up to us to help reduce the stigma,” Badali said.

Alani-Verjee said she is more likely to see women and younger people at her practice. However, she said she has recently seen more referrals for older men during the pandemic.

“Men are socialized not to pay attention to their emotions and push through to be strong and tough,” she said. “The idea of needing to talk to someone about feeling is new, uncomfortable.

“The capacity to be strong and to just get through it is starting to wane and men are realizing that is not a sustainable strategy for them,” Alani-Verjee said.

She hopes mental health care will continue to be a priority after the pandemic but says there are barriers to care she wants to see addressed, hopefully by the government.

Alani-Verjee said there should be more subsidised mental health care and mental health coverage by OHIP, or at least greater access to mental health care for individuals under a certain income bracket.

People in the community are struggling, and doctors, including Alani-Verjee, see people for free, something she said is not sustainable.

Other health professions don’t have these financial barriers that exist within mental health care, Alani-Verjee said

“I would love to see the government do something about that,” she said.

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