The Canadian Mental Health Association is seeing a significant increase in demand for its services, forcing it to seek help from the federal government, saying the problem will only get worse.
CMHA National CEO Margaret Eaton says Canadians are anxious, worried and under a lot of stress.
“So what we’re seeing across the country is the phones from our CMHA branches ringing,” she says.
According to Eaton, a branch in Nova Scotia used to answer about 25 calls a day for mental health support. However, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, she says that the number of calls to this place has increased to more than 700 per day.
On Wednesday, Eaton spoke to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health asking for more funding, adding that CMHA wants Ottawa to invest more in community mental health.
“So programs that would provide, perhaps, three to four months of support to people who need some relief from anxiety and, in some cases, depression brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic” , she said to NEWS 1130. “Mental health has not been funded to the same extent as physical health in Canada, or even to the same extent as you would find in the European Union, where a large proportion of services we would have to pay for separately or through insurance are provided by the government.
CMHA says many people are at risk of mental health problems during this crisis. Although many Canadians in general feel stressed, Eaton notes that people who already have a mental illness or mental health problems may have their symptoms exacerbated due to social isolation.
She says that older adults who may not be as technologically savvy as younger people may feel more alone because they cannot see or hear their friends just as easily.
“We are also very concerned about Aboriginal people, who already have the highest youth suicide rate in the country, and will the pandemic, in fact, make this worse? ” she says.
CMHA says front line workers’ mental health is also a concern.
“We know the impact of COVID-19 in Italy and China on frontline workers and how they suffered from it because sometimes they don’t have enough equipment and they have to make really heartbreaking decisions”, said Eaton.
If funding fails, Eaton fears an “echo pandemic” in mental health after COVID-19, which would put even more pressure on acute care services across Canada.
“Once we have sort of come out of the physical worst, then we will see this echo of mental health problems that will result from it, resulting from the pandemic and conditions,” she said.
After the Fort McMurray fires, Eaton says it took at least eight months, and in some cases two years, for people to recover in terms of mental health.
She is concerned that the current pandemic has similar long-term effects on Canadians and that it will inevitably have to be addressed.
CMHA has 86 branches and divisions across the country, all of which are “already closed,” says Eaton.