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Mental Health in Times of COVID—Dealing with Increased Anxiety, Addiction, Depression

Canadians are experiencing alarming levels of despair, despondency and anxiety after almost ten months of pandemic awareness and restrictions, according to a new survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and researchers from UBC. Almost half (40%) of Canadians believe that their health has deteriorated since March of 2020, and one in ten Canadians (10%) has recently had feelings of suicide, up from 6% in May and 2.5% before COVID. “There has been a huge change in the way people do things day to day. It's not surprising there would be some impact on our mental health because it's definitely a stressful time,” said Melanie McGregor, health promotion and advancement specialist with the CMHA Halton Branch. “Self-care things that we used to do are not available, like going to the gym and getting together with friends. There are also financial worries and increased demand on people working from home and trying to take care of kids at the same time. There are a whole lot of reasons that we might expect to have negative effects on their mental health.” Moreover, McGregor attributes much of the anxiety to a barrage of information from media sources. “It is important to set some limits on media. If we are going to take in what's coming at us we're going to feel overwhelmed. It is important to get the information that we need but not go overboard so that we're feeling additionally anxious,” she said. According to McGregor, new people are calling crisis hotlines. “We are certainly hearing from people that are reaching out to us that haven't contacted us before. If what people are feeling is getting in the way of their everyday lives, it's probably a good time to reach out,” she said. McGregor added, “Before the pandemic we were doing free walk-in counselling. We're still doing counselling, just not in person. All of the services we're providing are virtual, so we're doing support by phone, support groups over zoom, and video calls with clients as well.” Angus Coll-Smith is a registered social worker with a private practice. Before the pandemic, he had an office in Burlington that he shared with ten other therapists. At that time, all therapy was done in an office setting person to person. But COVID changed all that. These days he sees 15-25 clients per week while working digitally from home. (Photo: Angus Coll-Smith) “Video appointments seemed odd add first, but now people are used to it,” he said. “It seems to be working for my clients, we can see each other and read facial expressions; everyone seems to have adapted. It also allows me more flexibility. I have clients who are at work and will got out to their car at lunch and do a session. For some people it's working better.” Coll-Smith cites three conditions that he sees repeatedly: depression, anxiety and addiction. “I often say that these conditions cause one to isolate. We often recommend the best way out is to stop isolating. We used to encourage to get out, go to groups, go to the gym. Obviously isolation is much worse now. Because of COVID we don't have those other things to counter balance.” “We [therapists] take a holistic view of healing. Medication alone isn't going to help, but taking a walk around the block a couple of times per day just might. You can't go to the gym, but there are practical skills you can develop to help you deal with the realities of lock down. Go outside so the sunlight hits you. Do something to stimulate your body and mind every day. Don't let the things that you can't do stop you from doing things that you can,” added Coll-Smith. Melanie McGregor of CMHA Halton concurs. “Definitely stay connected with people, whether by video or phone calls, that's an important part of self-care. Discover new ways of coping and explore new ways of doing things. And give yourself permission to feel things during the pandemic. We might be able to say I'm glad I have a job and I'm not sick, but that doesn't mean we can't be disappointed that we're missing out on things.”

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