Ever since the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic in March 2020, it has been a constant source of stress, fear and anxiety for millions of people around the world. Almost a year later, the pandemic is still a major concern that has infected over 137 million people and caused almost 3 million deaths. This past year has taken a toll on the majority of people’s mental health, whether it’s caused by anxiety about yourself or a loved one contracting the virus, the isolation of having to spend such long periods of time away from friends and family. The closures of schools, universities, sports and other extracurricular activities that bring us joy and serve as an outlet from our everyday emotions adds to the problem and takes the sense of normalcy away from our lives. Along with these negative impacts, the pandemic has become an economic issue too. The coronavirus has seriously impacted the economy, with over 225 million people losing their jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic and 1 in 4 Americans saying that someone in their household has been laid off due to the coronavirus. Copious amounts of people are stressed and worried about potentially losing their source of income, and tens of thousands of people already have to face the reality of losing their jobs due to the pandemic. With all of these overwhelming and stressful emotions that people have been forced to deal with for the past year, the pandemic is bound to have a negative impact on our mental health.
During the pandemic, around 4 in 10 adults in the US have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression as of January 2021, which is quite a leap up from the January 2019 where only about 1 in 10 adults experiences these symptoms.
Out of all the generations, young adults (ages 18 – 24) were the most affected by pandemic related stress and have higher than average rates of anxiety/depressive disorders at 56% experiencing symptoms. 25% of young adults also reported increasing substance use to deal with pandemic related stress, as opposed to the average 13% increase in substance use.
Job or income loss has had a significant impact on people’s mental health as well. Over half of those who experienced job loss due to the pandemic have reported symptoms of anxiety/depression. As well, statistics show that people with lower incomes were more likely to experience major effects on their mental health due to stress from the pandemic.
Essential workers are also showing higher rates of poor mental health. The majority of these workers are required to work away from home and may be unable to practice social distancing, which puts both themselves and their families at a higher risk of contracting the virus. This is causing rates of anxiety/depression and substance abuse to increase for essential workers.
While these statistics above are from studies based in the United States, the US is not the only country feeling the negative effects of COVID on mental health. While the US does have some of the highest rates of adults experiencing anxiety, sadness or depression related to the pandemic, nations all around the world are feeling these negative impacts as well.
To make matters even more complicated, the pandemic has disrupted or even completely halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries, despite that the demand for these services is growing. 67% of people reported disruptions to counselling and psychotherapy, a third of people have seen disruptions to emergency interventions, and 30% of people reported disruptions to medication for mental, neurological or substance abuse disorders.
Changemaker Interview & Portraits
For the catalyst project, I chose to interview my aunt, Dana. She works as a nurse as part of Calgary’s PACT team, which helps respond to situations that involve individuals experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis.
1. What inspired you to go into your career? Have you always been interested in this subject?
“I’ve always liked the concept of helping people and assisting people when they are struggling. I love mental health because I think with early intervention people can do very well and have very fulfilling lives. With this job that I do right now, we get to go into the community and I feel like we can make a good impactful difference for outcomes for individuals and families that could be struggling with mental illness that may be chronic, or if people are struggling because of a situational crisis that could be happening for them.”
2. What do you think has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
“I currently work on a team that is mental health clinicians and I’m a nurse alongside Calgary officers, and we go and do mental health assessments in the community and crisis interventions for individuals struggling with mental health. The team was a pilot when I first joined and it’s been very progressive, and we’ve had lots of changes over the years with the clients that we serve and the families. I like to think that the biggest impact I’ve made is that when people are for starting to experience mental health concerns in their teens or early adult years, we can hopefully change the projection of what their life might look like by getting them adequate treatment and connection to the best resources that are going to meet their families needs and can hopefully have the best long term outcomes for that person’s quality of life.”
3. Do you believe you are making change in your community?
“I think especially our team makes impactful differences in the community. We often see people who need involvement while suffering from mental health concerns, so that’s the role that I take in trying to assist mental health concerns while the interactions that may have to occur with police are occurring. But the goal is to always divert the person from charges and the justice system, or from hospital admissions or emergency room if appropriate. So I would say that I hope with everybody that we see we do make a difference in the long term projection of their life for their mental health and overall well-being, as well as their involvement with the justice system and hopefully decreasing the justice system involvement and increasing their overall mental health wellness.”
What can individuals do to help?
In stressful and often overwhelming times like these, it is critical to look after your own physical and mental health. Some things you can do to improve your own mental well being are:
- Take care of your body: try to eat regular meals, stay hydrated, exercise in ways that make you happy, and get enough sleep.
- Find time to unwind and do activities that bring you joy.
- Limit your social media and news intake: oftentimes these platforms constantly share negative information, which can become upsetting.
- Talk to people you trust about how you are feeling rather than letting emotions bottle up.
If you are struggling to cope, consider calling a healthcare provider such a doctor or talking to a counsellor if your everyday activities have been impaired by stress for multiple days in a row. If you feel like you or someone you know is in an immediate crisis, consider calling one of these hotlines.
What can society do to help?
In society, there has been a stigma against mental health for decades and decades. Oftentimes people suffering from bad mental health and even mental illness have been told something along the lines
of “it’s all in your head”, “it’s just a phase”, or “just don’t worry about it”, all of which are completely untrue and unhelpful. This stigma around mental health adds an extra burden for people struggling with mental health issues. Studies have even shown that stigma prevents around 40% of people with anxiety or depression from seeking medical treatment. Some things that we can do as a society to help those struggling with mental health are:
- Educate yourself and others: take time to learn about mental health to better understand the effects it can have.
- Be aware of language: avoid phrases that could make those struggling with mental health feel invalid, such as using mental illnesses adjectively.
- Normalize prioritizing mental health: sometimes it’s necessary to put your own mental health above the needs and wants of school, work or other people.
- Be compassionate towards everyone: you never know what everyone is going through or who could be struggling with their mental health.
Resources I used for information in my catalyst project can be found in this google doc.
Thank you for reading! In the comments section, feel free to share any questions you might have, ideas you may have for improving mental health on a micro or macro level, or your experience with how the pandemic has affected the mental well being of yourself or those around you.