Ontario and Atlantic Canada have experienced the highest levels of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic: survey

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TORONTO –
New research examining the evolution of mental health in Canadians since the start of the pandemic has revealed that Ontario and Atlantic Canada have experienced the largest increases in anxiety and depression.

In all provinces, the number of people reporting high anxiety has quadrupled since the COVID-19 epidemic.

The rate of high depression has more than doubled – and experts believe it may worsen.

The survey also asked respondents about their levels of anxiety and depression if social isolation continued for two more months, and the percentage of respondents reporting high levels of depression increased again in response. This suggests that some respondents anticipated an increase in their feelings of depression.

“The prediction is that if it continues, the depression will get worse and the anxiety will somehow remain relatively high,” Dr. David Dozois told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “And that just asks people if social isolation [were] to continue for a few more months.

“Depending on whether there is a second wave of cases, etc., we may be in the know for the long term. “

Dozois, a professor of psychology at Western University, is a member of the board of directors of Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) and helped design the survey.

The investigation was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights on behalf of the MHRC and involved more than 1,800 Canadians 18 years of age or older in all provinces and territories.

Since the COVID-19 epidemic, 61% of those surveyed said they had had some or more anxiety, a jump from 28% who said they had at least some anxiety before COVID-19.

Although only 5% of respondents had high anxiety before the pandemic, 20% said they had high anxiety since the epidemic.

Those who reported experiencing at least one depression went from 19% before the epidemic to 33% after. And the number of people with high levels of depression has risen from 4% before the epidemic to 10% since the epidemic, with a rate of 16% expected if social isolation continues.

Dozois explained that the initial big jump in anxiety levels makes sense because the anxiety is rooted in “thoughts of the future and threat and imminent catastrophe.”

“And then, once we’ve been there for a while, I think … the facts get a little deeper and you start to recognize,” wow, I’m socially isolated. I’m not doing as much as before. I’m tired of stuffing myself with Netflix, “that sort of thing. “

That’s why more and more people could feel the effects of depression, he said, as the crisis continues.

THE IMPACT THROUGHOUT CANADA

When the data was broken down by region, Atlantic Canada and Ontario led the country in both anxiety and depression.

Anxiety levels increased by 28% and 27% respectively in the Atlantic provinces and Ontario. Depression levels increased by 13% in Atlantic Canada and 12% in Ontario.

However, an important factor is the timing of the investigation: it was conducted from April 22 to April 28, the week after the Nova Scotia massacre that killed 22 people.

Dozois said it certainly could have played a role in the results of the collective mental health survey in Atlantic Canada.

“At this point, with the data … [it’s] confused with location-specific events, “he said.

“It has certainly been a couple of months of trauma for Atlantic Canada. So yes, I think it could have an impact. “

More studies and surveys will help refine the data and provide a better picture of the amount of COVID-19, which alone affects the mental health of Canadians outside of other tragedies.

Other aspects of the region-specific data provide a sometimes counter-intuitive picture.

According to the survey, the smallest increase in anxiety levels was reported on the Prairies, specifically in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with an increase of 20%, and in Quebec, with an increase of 22%.

For the Prairies, relatively low levels of COVID-19 may play a role, said Dozois.

However, Quebec also experienced the smallest increase in depression rates, with only a 5% increase.

Given that Quebec has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and the highest number of deaths in the country, this result is, according to Dozois, confusing.

According to him, researchers do not know “why” Quebec has the smallest increase in levels of depression.

“According to other surveys, we know that Quebec tends to have lower levels of self-reported anxiety and depression than other provinces,” he said.

He said it was possible that the scale of the COVID-19 cases in Quebec could mean that people are spared the anxiety of imagining hypothetical end-of-the-world scenarios because things are already so bad.

“Maybe people recognize, OK, we can get through this. And they sort of see it for what it is rather than speculating and demeaning in their own minds, “he said. “But again, this is just speculation. “

Investigations can only tell us a lot, said Dozois.

“I think we need different types of more experimental studies to determine [causes]. In a more specific study, they would be able to “control other variables.”

According to the summary report, the researchers hope the survey will inform policy makers about the best way to support Canadians who are currently struggling with their mental health.

“I think COVID probably opens the eyes of government and policy makers to say in a way, ‘Wow, we really have to support mental health,'” said Dozois.

He noted that the Canadian government had invested in the Wellness Together campaign, which was launched in April to serve as a virtual platform for mental health support. But he stressed that access to care needs to improve.

CANADIAN WEIGHING FACTORS

Economic concerns are among the main factors affecting the mental health of Canadians during the pandemic.

The survey found that 57% of people who had become unemployed due to the pandemic said their recent job loss had a negative impact on their mental health.

“It takes a heavy toll,” said Dozois. He added that losing a job often causes feelings of “failure”, which can contribute greatly to depression, even without adding the stress of losing an income.

Among those still employed, 42% said that the fear of losing their wages or working hours negatively affected their mental health.

In addition, 43% of those surveyed feared that a family member would lose their job and almost half of those surveyed said that the general economic downturn was a drag on their mental health.

When it comes to health issues, “people are more concerned about their family members getting the virus than they are about themselves,” said Dozois.

Only 35% were actively concerned about getting the virus, while 47% were concerned that a family member would become ill.

Survey found 28% of Canadians drink alcohol and use more cannabis during the pandemic, but respondents said that overall it had a “neutral” effect on their mental health – not making them feel bad or better as a whole.

More data would be needed to specifically address this issue, said Dozois, especially since it is based on self-reported information, but for now, the data is inconclusive on the impact of the increase substance use.

“We know that alcohol is a depressant and in the long run it would have an effect on levels of depression and other mental health issues,” he said.

Self-isolation is one of the main barriers to the mental health of Canadians: 41% reported being separated from others as something that selfishly touched them.

“It is really difficult to connect socially with people [right now], and I think people are getting tired of the zoom and things like that that really interfere with their ability to connect really like we used to, “said Dozois.

“I mean, we miss our hugs and that sort of thing. “

HOW TO FIGHT ANXIETY

Many factors taken into account in the investigation are beyond our direct control, such as job losses, the overall economic landscape, the length of our isolation and the emotional toll of watching others get sick and die.

But the survey also looked at the factors that had a positive effect on the respondents’ mental health.

While 36% of respondents said that daily checking of information had a negative impact on their mental health, reading essays, news and books unrelated to the pandemic offered positive benefits to 44% of respondents .

Physical activity, interacting with pets, and participating in entertainment such as music, movies and TV also had a positive impact on respondents.

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were even more positive than negative, but had the lowest positive impact, with 21% reporting a positive increase compared to 17% who reported a negative impact.

Dozois said that to stay connected with loved ones and friends, it was important to do so “actively”.

Although communication with people outside your home is largely through digital means during the pandemic, setting specific times for video chats or participating in group activities with the Internet as a channel will allow you to feel more connected than just commenting on Instagram Post.

“My parents live in Calgary. I made Zoom cribbage games with them as a way to connect and catch up, “said Dozois. “I have a board of directors and we have two decks of cards and we left we are going. “

Dozois added that he hopes research like this will help inform the general public, not just policy makers.

He said it was important to recognize that many people around us are experiencing the same mental health issues that we could be during this crisis.

Instead of getting angry “that people don’t remember going down a certain aisle the right way at the grocery store”, we should “cut people down.”

“We can’t connect physically, but … we can certainly, I think, take care of people as Canadians.”

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