An overwhelming majority of Ontarians fear a second wave of COVID-19 is near, with anxiety levels remaining unchanged since the pandemic first erupted in the province in March.
About 83% of Ontarians polled say they are concerned that social distancing and lockdowns are being relaxed too quickly, as schools and businesses reopen. And 73 percent say they are increasingly wary of people’s ability to properly follow protocols that reduce the spread of disease.
These results come from a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) survey of 1,002 Ontarians, conducted with assistance from Pollara Strategic Insights at the end of July. The association said the survey was commissioned to better understand how people’s mental health is changing as the pandemic progresses.
The CEO of the association, Camille Quenneville, described the results as “worrying”, in particular because the levels of anxiety and stress related to the pandemic are still very high compared to the beginning of the infections in the province.
“People still believe that we are headed for a mental health crisis; that this pandemic is going to precipitate that, ”Quenneville said. “People are still very concerned that we may go into lockdown again and if we are not careful the number of people infected with the virus will increase.”
The survey found that 85% of Ontarians fear a second wave will ‘bring us back to where we started’, and 78% fear coming into contact with people who are not following social distancing and safety measures appropriate.
Ontarians are also concerned about their children returning to school in September – an expected outcome given widespread outrage over the province’s back-to-school plan, which many parents have expressed. and teachers have criticized it as being premature, vague and confusing.
Six in 10 parents said they were worried about their own level of anxiety if their children were to return to school in September, and eight in 10 parents fear their children could contract COVID-19 in school and bring it back in the home and infect others in the household.
Pollara’s online survey of 1,002 Ontario adults was conducted from July 23 to August 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“We were very directly concerned in March and April about contracting the virus and getting sick,” Quenneville said. But at this point in the pandemic, people worry about how fragile things are when making important decisions like sending their children to school or going back to work.
Quenneville said she was a little surprised anxiety levels remain high as the rate of infection has declined since the start of the pandemic.
But the results may indicate long-term effects on the mental health of the general population, as many people have had to deal with loss of income or the death of family members due to the pandemic. This is reflected in the known higher rates of drug addiction and overdose since the start of the pandemic. Ontario experienced its highest rate of overdose deaths on record during the months of March, April and May, Quenneville said.
The survey also found that only half of Ontarians know where to find mental health support for themselves or their family if they need it. That’s an increase from 44% in ACSM’s first pandemic survey, but still indicates a low number of people compared to the overall anxiety of the general population.
“This number is too low,” Quenneville said. “We have to make sure the resources are there, because that in itself decreases anxiety and stress.”
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