World Mental Health Day – two thirds of Canadians believe we are in a mental health pandemic

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Published October 8, 2021 at 4:36 pm

As Canadians begin to believe they can see the light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic a new poll suggests we are on the brink of a new health emergency – a mental health pandemic.

As Canada joins the World Health Organization (WHO) and countries around the globe in recognizing World Mental Health Day on Sunday, a new Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences has revealed that more than two-thirds of respondents believe we are experiencing a mental health pandemic.

“To know Canadians are suffering from a mental health standpoint is heartbreaking, but, unfortunately, not surprising,” notes Karim Mamdani, President and CEO of Ontario Shores, a specialty mental health hospital in Whitby which has been treating mental illness for more than a century.

“This should serve as a warning for policy and decision-makers that the demands for mental health services will continue to increase at an alarming rate as we continue living through the COVID-19 pandemic and long after it is over.”

The global COVID-19 pandemic called on March 11, 2020 has brought national media attention to physical healthcare needs of Canadians. Meanwhile, amid physical distancing, isolation protocols and lockdown measures, the mental health of Canadians has been negatively impacted. According to the study, 28 per cent of Canadians admit their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, while 69 per cent believe Canada is in the midst of a mental health pandemic.

Dr. Steven Selchen, the Chief of Psychiatry at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, agreed and he recognized the fact COVID-19 has placed an extra burden on many people.

“Even before the pandemic, the awareness around mental health was growing,” said Selchen, who’s been at Jo Brant for five years. “With the increased stress involved with isolation, or being with other people more than usual, we’ve seen an exponential increase in Burlington of people needing help.”

And getting help sooner rather than later is one of the key things Selchen is focusing on.

“The biggest challenge we have is getting patients in to see the right clinician in a timely way. One of the ways we’re doing that is by working with local agencies to eliminate wait times.”

When a person in crisis goes to the hospital, that might not be the right place for them, but getting everyone where they need to be remains a challenge, Selchen said. And the longer the wait, the more resources it takes to deal with mental health issues.

“Don’t wait,” Selchen cautioned. “If you’re concerned, start with your family doctor. We’ll partner with you and them to get you the proper level of service.”

Selchen said he’d rather support people when the need is lighter. “It allows us to help more people. Please don’t wait to get help to the last minute.”

According to the Ipsos study, which was conducted September 14-16 and interviewed 1,001 people, Canadians are concerned they will not be able to easily access care should they need help managing their mental health. The study found that two-thirds of respondents believe there are not enough mental health services and supports available in their local community.

“Confidence in knowing you can access quality mental health care within your own community will encourage people to reach out for help early in their journey with mental illness,” says Lori Lane-Murphy, a speaker, writer and mental health advocate who lives with Bipolar II Disorder. “When you are struggling with your mental health, any barrier is too big a barrier. Being able to access care when you need it will help Canadians manage their mental health and help them live meaningful lives.”

According to WHO, the pandemic is increasing demand for mental health services around the world. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.

Selchen said the mental health industry has seen a rise in stress and negative coping mechanisms since the pandemic took hold.

“It can be as simple as someone who used to go to the gym, but it’s closed. They don’t look elsewhere for exercise. They’re working at home, so they’re less active in general. All of these kinds of factors lead to increased anxiety and depression.”

And that’s when some people turn to alcohol or drugs to cope, he said. Chronic illnesses like schizophrenia worsen when stress increases, and the medical establishment is seeing more cases of domestic abuse over the last 18 months.

Selchen offered some tips for people who feel they’re suffering from higher levels of stress and depression.

“Remember the fundamentals. Make sure you get enough sleep, watch your diet, get exercise. Schedule activities you enjoy. Sometimes the act of making an appointment makes it more likely to follow through.”

“I hear so many stories of people having back-to-back-to-back video meetings,” he added. “There are days when the only time you get up from your desk chair is to go to the washroom.”

Ontario Shores, like many other mental healthcare providers, has witnessed an increased demand for services over the last 18 months, says Mamdani. “We believe this is just the beginning and even greater pressure to support the mental health of the communities we serve is right around the corner.”

With files from Jeffrey Allen

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