Mental health requests up due to pandemic

CMHA Access expects situation to worsen as autumn blues set in

A discarded surgical mask lies in a pile of leaves. Even once the pandemic is over, there is expected to be a longer-term impact on the demand for mental-health services. John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette

Share Adjust Comment Print

With days getting shorter, this is the time of year that many people start to feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or seasonal depression.
This year, those symptoms are likely to be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic, which has been impacting Canadians’ mental health since March.
Lisa Carricato, mental health educator at the Sault Ste. Marie branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association said the number of CMHA Access calls have increased significantly since the pandemic began. Calls initially decreased in March, but she believes this was due to confusion around what services remained open. The number of calls increased dramatically in May.
The issues faced by callers vary widely.
“Clients were having difficulty with isolation and change in activities and routines due to COVID,” Carricato told Sault This Week. “Parents were calling to find mental health resources for their children who have developed anxieties about returning to school or worried about germs related to COVID; calls related to individuals trying to manage their elevated OCD symptoms increased also.”
Some call with work-related stress. Some struggle with the isolation of working from home, while others who returned to work feel the stress of greater demands, uncertainty about safety, and confusion around new COVID policies.
The pandemic also put a further strain on those recovering from or struggling with addictions.
“Access is receiving a lot of calls from people having urges to use drugs and alcohol again, individuals looking for addiction services due to relapses and family members looking for supports to cope with their loved ones using substances,” said Carricato.
Unsurprisingly, Access also receives a lot of calls from couples.
“Couples are calling due to problems in their relationships which are directly related to COVID stress, such as loss of employment, change in finances, children not being in school, increase in substance use, both partners having to share the same space to work from home,” said Carricato.
While many of those struggling with pandemic-related mental health issues had pre-existing issues, many of those reaching out to CMHA are dealing with mental health concerns for the first time in their lives, she said. “People are struggling with the uncertainty of how COVID will impact their future and the future of their children.” It’s important for those facing any kind of mental health struggle right now that they know they are not alone, Carricato said.
“If they are experiencing symptoms that are making it difficult to live their lives and do the things that are important to them, and it is lasting longer than a couple of weeks, they should seek out professional help.”
Carricato offered some tips to help get through those struggles during the pandemic.
“Educate yourself on what the virus is, what the signs and symptoms are, and the preventative measures, but keep perspective,” she said. “Do not spend too much time checking the news channels. Remember to also spend time on other important and positive things in your life.”
It is important not to inflate the risk in your mind, she added.
“When something’s new and there are unknowns about it, it can seem very scary. This is our brain’s normal reaction to a threat (our fight or flight response) and considering the amount of attention a new threat like this gets, it’s easy for the risk to be inflated.”
Although it’s important to take precautions, Carricato encourages everyone to stay connected with a support network of people you can talk to when you’re feeling anxious to help keep you grounded and keep your perspective.
Those who had been dealing with mental health issues prior to the onset of the pandemic, should try to remember the coping skills they’ve used in other areas of their lives, such as regular mindfulness practice, and apply them to any pandemic-related struggles they face, she advised.
If none of their efforts work, though, and they’re still struggling with anxiety or depression, Carricato suggests seeking additional support.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with their mental health, the best way to help is to be there for them and listen, Carricato said.
“Encouraging professional supports when appropriate is also important and providing assistance in them seeking help if needed,” she said.
“It is important to note that when people are experiencing problems with their mental health, and loss, they may have thoughts of suicide. The best way we can help someone who may be having thoughts of suicide is ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. If they are, listen to them and link them with professional supports immediately.”
Remember that caring for loved ones with mental health struggles can impact the caregiver’s mental health as well, so it is important for caregivers to seek support when they need it and to practice self-care on a regular basis, Carricato said. “Self care is so important.
“Finding activities and people that help you feel connected. Recognizing that we can’t control a lot of what is happening around us, but how we choose to respond to things is always in our control.”
Anyone looking for help with their mental health struggles can access CMHA services, which are all still being offered, though some have adapted delivery methods.
The Queen Street office still offers its weekly counselling service on Tuesday, currently by appointment. Appointments can be made by calling 705-759-5989 on Monday, and clients can choose to speak to a counsellor by telephone or video call.
Carricato also recommends the provincially funded Bounce Back program, through which participants receive telephone coaching, skill-building workbooks, and online videos all grounded in cognitive behavioural therapy.

Comments