BONOKOSKI: Mental health a pandemic within a pandemic

A new poll finds the majority of Canadians now believe there is a mental health crisis across the country

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As World Mental Health Day drifts away, there appears to be a pandemic within a pandemic.

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With the COVID-19 crisis literally throwing the entire world out of whack, mental health has become its own pandemic.

A new Ipsos poll, conducted for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services, reveals almost 70% of Canadians believe there is a mental health pandemic in the country.

In fact, Millennials and Gen Xers, at 75%, are among the most likely to believe Canada is facing a mental health pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has been transformative.

Four of five Canadians, according to the poll, think it has changed life forever, with the 56-year-plus Boomer Generation, at 89%, the most likely to feel this way.

In fact, it has been so profound that 50% claim they now have anxiety about returning to “normal” life in a post-pandemic world.

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They’re intimidated.

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After almost two years of lockdowns and restrictions, job losses, anxiety, and isolation from family and friends, it is not surprising that many Canadians are now experiencing mental health issues.

Nearly three in 10 admit their mental health has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic, with the lack of mental health services unfortunately adding to the deterioration.

The results of the Ipsos poll suggest many communities are underserved in the mental health arena, as two-thirds of Canadians feel there are not enough mental health services and supports available close to them.

Unsurprisingly, the youngest generation, Gen Z (ages 18-23) are less likely to feel as though there are not enough mental health services and supports available within their local community.

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Youth tends to have large blinkers. Besides, they are hopefully too busy being young and footloose.

The devastation of the pandemic — millions of deaths, economic strife, and unprecedented curbs on social interaction — has already had a marked effect on people’s mental health, says Nature Journal.

“Researchers worldwide are investigating the causes and impacts of this stress, and some fear that the deterioration in mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided,” says the Journal.

Ultimately, scientists hope they can use the mountains of data being collected in studies about mental health to link the impact of particular control measures to changes in people’s well-being.

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More than 42% of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December — an increase from 11% the previous year.

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Data from other surveys suggest the picture is similar worldwide.

“I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” says Harvard clinical psychologist Luana Marques.

Major events that have shaken societies, such as the 9/11 terrorist attack, have left some people with psychological distress for years, says Marques.

A study of more than 36,000 New Yorkers revealed that more than 14 years after the attack, 14% still had post-traumatic stress disorder and 15% experienced depression — much higher rates than in comparable populations.

The distress in the pandemic, says the study, probably stems from people’s limited social interactions, tensions among families in lockdown together and fear of catching COVID-19.

Scientists conducting large, detailed international studies say they might eventually be able to show how particular COVID-control measures — such as lockdowns or social interaction limitations — reduce or compound mental-health stress.

But it is going to take time, possibly years.

The pandemic, though, still has to run its course, with another mutation of the Delta variant having just now been discovered.

So it’s far from over.

markbonokoski@gmail.com

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