CMHA and UBC release data on emotional impact of the pandemic for Mental Health Week
The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on people in British Columbia, as 71% of adults report feeling so-called negative emotions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The five most common responses across British Columbia were ‘worried or anxious,’ ‘bored,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘lonely or isolated’ and, on a positive note, “hopeful”. This is according to the third round of data from the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers to mark CMHA’s 70th annual Mental Health Week.
“The theme of Mental Health Week this year is understanding our emotions,” says Jonny Morris, Chief Executive Officer, CMHA, BC Division. “It’s striking to see that in the midst of feelings of worry, boredom, loneliness and stress, 31% of British Columbians also said they felt hopeful. All of these feelings are important to acknowledge and, during Mental Health Week, we’re reminding people to be honest and real about how they’re feeling.”
Emotions represent our inner mental states. They arise in response to life events and experiences and can initiate changes in the body and in our behaviours. Some emotions are a positive experience, such as feeling calm, hopeful or secure and others are more challenging, such as anxiety, sadness, anger and hopelessness. Our emotional responses to significant events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, both reflect and contribute to our overall mental health status.
“Good mental health is not about being happy all the time but having appropriate emotional and behavioural responses to stressors and life events,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “Sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is particularly important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.”
Research shows that putting your negative emotions into words disrupts and reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that drives your responses to stress and fear. The act of naming our emotions can actually help us feel calmer and help us understand what we’re going through.
However, it is important to know when anxious feelings become a cause for concern. Feeling anxious is not the same as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder but our emotions give us clues to how we’re really doing. Indeed, those experiencing the most challenging emotions related to the pandemic were also the most likely to report a decline in their mental health, as well as suicidal thoughts.
“It’s time to seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed for prolonged periods of time or have persistent feelings of worry, anger or despair,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “Or, if challenging emotions are interrupting your daily functioning, negatively impacting your relationships, your ability to work or enjoy life or causing you to rely on substances to cope. If you are having thoughts or feelings of suicide, you should seek help for your mental health.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates in our society is complex; however, suicidal thoughts and feelings in the general Canadian population remain elevated at 8%, compared to 6% in the spring of 2020 and 2.5% observed nationally in pre-pandemic 2016.
Overall, a large number of British Columbians (37%) report a decline in their mental health since the onset of the pandemic. The good news is most British Columbians (82%) say they are coping at least fairly well with the stress of the pandemic, using approaches such as: walking or exercising outside (58%), connecting with family and friends virtually (40%), maintaining a healthy lifestyle (44%), keeping up to date with relevant information (38%) and doing a hobby (41%).
British Columbians also report they have increased their screen time (60%), are consuming more food (31%), are doing more online shopping for things they don’t need (18%) and are using more substances like drugs and alcohol due to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic (12%).
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote the importance of emotions and the role that understanding them plays in good mental health. Mental Health Week is generously supported by Major Partner Shoppers Drug Mart as well as Westland Insurance, Leith Wheeler, Rogers TV and the Not Myself Today program. To get involved, you can:
- Learn more about mental health and emotions at www.mentalhealthweek.ca
- Share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal and #MentalHealthWeek
- Donate to support CMHA mental health programs and services at www.cmha.bc.ca/donate
- Connect. If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of British Columbia’s mental health portal. If you are in crisis call 310-6789 or dial or dial 911.
About the data
The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox in late January, 2021 to a representative sample of 3,034 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. It is the third round of a national monitoring survey that is also aligned with work being conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. To access a complete summary of the findings, please visit www.cmha.ca
About the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
CMHA is Canada’s most established mental health charity and the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health. CMHA helps people access the resources they need to maintain and improve mental health, build resilience, and support recovery from mental illness. Each year in BC alone, CMHA serves more than 100,000 people across the province. For mental health and addiction information and resources visit www.cmha.bc.ca
External Relations Specialist, CMHA BC Division