Calls grow for feds to prepare for ‘echo pandemic’ of mental illness post-COVID-19

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on the mental health of Canadians.

The Canadian Mental Health Association is seeing a major increase in demand for its services, forcing it to call on the federal government for help, saying the problem will only get worse.

Margaret Eaton, CMHA’s National CEO says Canadians are anxious, worried, and feeling a lot of stress.

“And so what we’re seeing across the country is the phones of our CMHA branches just ringing off the hook,” she explains.

One branch in Nova Scotia, Eaton says, used to field an average of about 25 calls a day for mental health support. However, since the COVID-19 crisis took hold, she says the number of calls to that location has risen to more than 700 a day.

Eaton addressed the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on Wednesday to call for a boost in funding, adding the CMHA wants to see Ottawa invest more heavily in community mental health.

“So programs that would provide up to, maybe, three to four months of support to individuals who need some relief from the anxiety, and in some cases depression that is being induced by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she tells 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 it in the European Union, where a lot of the services that we would have to pay for separately or through insurance are provided by the government.”

The CMHA says a lot of people are at risk for mental health issues during this crisis. While many Canadians in general are feeling stressed, Eaton notes people who already have a mental illness or mental health issues may find their symptoms exacerbated because of social isolation.

She says elderly people who may not be as technologically savvy as younger people may find themselves feeling more alone, because they can’t see or hear from their friends quite as easily.

“We’re very concerned about Indigenous peoples, as well, who already have the highest youth suicide rate in the country, and will the pandemic, in fact, exacerbate that?” she says.

According to the CMHA, there’s also added concern for the mental health of front line workers.

“We know about the impact of COVID-19 in Italy and in China on frontline workers and how they suffered through this because sometimes they don’t have enough equipment and they’ve got to make some really heartbreaking decisions,” Eaton says.

If funding doesn’t come through, Eaton fears an “echo pandemic” of mental health after COVID-19, which would put even more pressure on acute-care services across Canada.

“That once we’ve sort of come out the worst of the physical side, that we will then see this echo of mental health concerns that will come from this, stemming from the pandemic and the conditions,” she explains.

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 their mental health.

She worries the current pandemic will have similar long-term impacts on Canadians that will inevitably need to be addressed.

The CMHA has 86 branches and divisions across the country, all of which are “already strapped,” Eaton says.

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