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How Are Canadians Minding Their Mental Health During COVID?

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadian adults have been actively taking care of their mental health by keeping in touch with loved ones and engaging in hobbies, according to a new report.

The vast majority of those who responded to the survey said they interacted with friends and family, and more than half said they took up hobbies and outdoor sports.

Dr. Mark Johnson

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“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the mental health and substance use of our family members, friends and colleagues,” Mark Johnson, Health Canada and Public Health Agency spokesman, told Medscape Medical News. .

“Now more than ever, it’s important that everyone in Canada has access to the services and supports they need, as well as effective tools to support their mental health and well-being, as well as reliable and reliable information about mental health and substance use,” he said. .

The report was published by the Public Health Agency of Canada on July 18.

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Demographic trends

The Public Health Agency of Canada funded the 2021 COVID-19 and Mental Health Study to better understand the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being. Statistics Canada collected responses from adults living in 10 Canadian provinces and three territorial capitals between February and May 2021.

About 25% of respondents tested positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder in spring 2021, up from 21% in fall 2020.

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Many Canadians reported taking care of their mental health during this time. About 86% said they interacted with friends and family, while 55% took up hobbies.

Physical and spiritual activities were also important. About 56% trained outdoors and 43% indoors. In addition, 32% prayed or sought spiritual guidance, while 22% meditated.

Some Canadians have changed their health habits to protect their mental health. About 26% have changed their food choices and 19% have changed their sleep patterns.

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Trends varied depending on various socio-demographic factors. For example, women tended to be more likely than men to engage in activities aimed at improving their mental health. Those under 65 are more likely to change their sleep and eating patterns for their mental health. Women and Canadians from racial groups were more likely to pray or seek spiritual guidance.

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Physical activity also varied by location. Rural Canadians were more likely to exercise outdoors to maintain their mental health, while those in urban centers were more likely to exercise indoors.

Overall, about 10% said they spoke to a specialist to help their mental health during the pandemic in early 2021.

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“This information is important because it allows us to better understand how people in Canada’s diverse communities are taking care of their mental health,” Johnson said. “This can be used to inform the Government of Canada about policies, programs and services to support positive mental health and wellbeing, prevent mental illness and suicide, and provide appropriate care.”

Johnson encouraged people to seek virtual mental health and substance use support through the Wellness Together Canada portal, as well as its companion app, PocketWell. To date, more than 2.4 million people in Canada have accessed support through the portal, which offers free educational content, self-guided therapy, moderated peer support and one-on-one consultations with qualified healthcare professionals, he said. .

Canadians can also receive urgent crisis assistance at disaster centers in their communities, Johnson said. These services include 24/7 crisis support, professional counseling, peer support and referral.

System-Level Strategies Needed

“The mental health impact of the pandemic has helped to clearly demonstrate the need for system-level strategies to respond to the diverse mental health needs of our population,” Emily Jenkins, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing and mental health researcher at the University of British Columbia, told Medscape. This need is particularly relevant among patients, who have already experienced health and social inequities that have contributed to severe mental health problems amid the pandemic, Jenkins said.

Dr. Emily Jenkins

Jenkins, who did not participate in the survey, has participated in several studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health. She and her colleagues found significant differences, especially with regard to pre-existing mental illness, disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous affiliation.

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“Knowing what we know from decades of population health research, we must invest in efforts that go beyond individual responsibility and behavioral advice, and include those that create an environment that is conducive to everyone’s mental health,” she said.

Researchers continue to study the impact of the pandemic on mental health and well-being, in particular to identify an increase in affective disorders, substance abuse and suicide.

Dr. Roger McIntyre

“When we experience shock in a population, it takes 6 months, a year, 3 years for mental health to show up, and with inflation on top of that, the stressors are even more exacerbated,” Roger McIntyre, MD, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, reports Medscape.

McIntyre, who did not participate in the survey, researched the impact of the pandemic on mental health. He and his colleagues found high rates of symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychological distress in several countries, especially among women, adults under 40, people with mental illness, and those who were frequently exposed to social media and pandemic news.

“We had three pandemics at once — COVID-19, and a pandemic of loneliness and a pandemic of mental health problems that preceded COVID,” he said. “It’s a triple threat, and we need to not only identify the burden of mental health problems, but also pre-empt problems in the first place.”

The study was funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Johnson, Jenkins and McIntyre reported no relevant financial relationships.

Public Health Agency of Canada. Published online July 18, 2022 Full text

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