New research shows chronic stress taking toll on individuals and organizations
(March 1, 2022) – Far from feeling the pandemic is over, most people in British Columbia are stressed about what’s next, with 65% worried about new variants and 64% worried about COVID-19 circulating in the population for years to come. Two years of pandemic-related stressors, including grief and trauma, are likely to lead to significant long-term mental health effects on both our population and the frontline mental health providers caring for them. This according to Round 4 of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers, and CMHA’s Running on empty: how community mental health organizations have fared on the frontlines of COVID-19, both released today.
“We’re seeing the signs of chronic stress on the population,” says Margaret Eaton, National CEO of CMHA. “Unfortunately, community mental health organizations have drawn on shallow reserves to meet people’s mental health needs during COVID, and now they’re running on empty. It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.”
The chronic stress of dealing with the pandemic is taking its toll, making basic decisions harder, sapping our energy and leaving people plain tired or burnt out. Nearly half (41%) of British Columbians are stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty.
“We’re seeing big differences—or inequities—in how different groups of people are affected by the pandemic. This is dividing our society into haves and have-nots when it comes to mental health and illness,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the longstanding service gaps and systemic barriers in our systems.”
Over a third (41%) say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic and this spikes in vulnerable groups such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (57%), had a pre-existing mental health condition (54%), identify as LGBTQ2+ (49%), are students (47%), have a disability (44%) or are Indigenous (42%). Nearly half of British Columbians (48%) are worried about the compounding effects of climate change on top of COVID-19 and ten per cent have had recent thoughts or feelings of suicide.
British Columbians who cannot get the mental health help they need due to long wait lists or high costs, rely on free mental health and addictions services and supports provided by the not-for-profit sector, but these organizations are strained to breaking.
“We’ve seen a significant and sustained increase in demand for our services and resources across the board,” says Jonny Morris, CEO, CMHA, BC Division. “With the drug poisoning crisis, re-traumatizing effects of recent residential school discoveries, the pandemic, and significant climate change related events, people are really experiencing the compounding impact of a number of substantial factors on our individual and collective mental health. People are drained, and we need sustained action.”
Almost one in five (17%) British Columbians felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it because: they didn’t know how or where to get it (35%), couldn’t afford to pay (41%), couldn’t get access (37%) or because insurance didn’t cover it (19%).
“Improving Canadians’ mental health is about more than just increasing access to care,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “We need to address the root causes of mental health inequities through promotion and prevention, in addition to treatment.”
In Running on Empty, CMHA calls on the federal government to better fund, support and integrate community mental health services within the healthcare system and: establish long-term and stable federal funding for key programs, services and supports in the community mental health sector; invest in mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programs and strategies; publicly fund community-based counseling and psychotherapy; and invest in housing, income supports and food security.
At the provincial level, CMHA BC echoes the need for more government support. “We are very encouraged by recent investments from the Province in mental health and substance use, and there’s a need to ensure that as overall health spending increases, mental health and addictions care is not left behind,” says Morris. “The Province’s extension of community counselling resources is a great example of heading in the right direction.”
CMHA BC suggests three key areas where the Provincial budget could sustain momentum from prior budget years: increasing and indexing income assistance rates to inflation, including disability assistance; targeting a portion of the budget’s investments in protecting people and communities from climate-related disasters towards the psychological impacts of disaster recovery; and continuing the transformation of access to psychotherapy with deeper and broader investments in community counselling.
If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal. If you are in crisis, please call 310-6789 (no area code needed in BC) or dial 911.
About the survey
The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox from Nov. 29 – Dec. 7, 2021, to a representative sample of 3,030 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. The fourth round of this national monitoring survey was made possible by generous support from Co-operators. To access a complete summary of the findings, please click here.
About the report
The report uses in-depth interviews across all provinces and the Yukon territory to outline how community mental health organizations have been impacted by and responded to the pandemic. The research was made possible by generous support from Co-operators. To access the complete report, please click here.
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
Senior Manager, Communications, CMHA BC Division
P: +1 (604) 349-4574