Canadians’ mental health continued to decline for the eighth consecutive month in November, according to a survey by Morneau Shepell.
The index also found that the largest month-to-month increases in stress were among those living in Alberta (61.2), followed by Saskatchewan (60.1) and Manitoba (59.7).
“Alberta started out with the lowest mental health of any province,” said Paula Allen of Morneau Shepell.
Economic challenges – which negatively impact mental health – put many Albertans in a vulnerable place even before COVID-19, she said.
“This uncertainty … the pandemic has exacerbated it.”
As in many other provinces, Alberta experienced lower mental health in the spring, mild impairment in September, and a decline in November as more cases were reported and some regions were locked.
“The Albertans have recently shown some resistance to behavioral changes in response to the pandemic compared to other provinces,” Allen told Global News.
“The realization of escalating cases is a factor that says,” We will not come to power through this power alone. It’s not about resilience. “
Morneau Shepell, who provides personal services, surveyed the same 3,000 employed Canadians each month and compared their mental health status to benchmarks collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The November Mental Health Index results were released on Wednesday and show a drop of 11.1 points from the prepandemic benchmark of 75.
The survey found that this decline “is largely due to a significant decline in mental health, which is its lowest level since the index was launched in April 2020”.
“Mental health is deteriorating,” said Allen. “That has decreased during the pandemic and that is one of the most worrying results.”
The survey found that some of the biggest mental health factors were anxiety, depression, lethargy, hopelessness, burnout, isolation, and feelings related to mental health.
The results showed that provincial mental health scores generally improved from April to July, when several regions saw steady decline from July to August.
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From September to November, Alberta and Manitoba saw steady declines, while British Columbia, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, saw improvements, the index showed.
Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes saw declines from September through October, but November brought modest improvements, the survey found. Saskatchewan saw a sharp drop in November, marking an increase in COVID-19 cases in that province, the report said.
A value of zero in the Mental Health Index reflects no change, positive values reflect improvement, and negative values reflect a decrease. The Mental Stress Change Score (zero to 100) compares the current with the previous month. A score of 50 does not reflect any change in psychological stress compared to the previous month. Values over 50 reflect an increase in psychological stress, values below 50 reflect a decrease in psychological stress.
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“The mental health index measures where we are and where we were before 2020,” Allen said. “Are we better or are we worse?”
The Mental Stress Change Score measures “the psychological stress that people experience compared to the previous month”.
Before the pandemic, surveys would show that roughly the same percentage of respondents experienced more stress than those who were less stressed.
“We didn’t see that at all during the pandemic,” Allen said.
Reported stress has been “consistently higher” since April, meaning Canadians build up stress during this time, Allen said.
She added that stress affects the way the human brain works.
“Relentless stress is not the way the brain is supposed to work.”
Stress spikes are okay, Allen explained, but only if they return to normal levels and we can balance the spikes with restful activities like exercise, laughing, and spending time with family and friends. Many of these things are impossible during a pandemic and lockdown.
“If you don’t have that balance … you’re more prone to long-term disruption.”
Allen said if intervention is not done now, more Canadians will suffer from mental disorders, the most common of which are depression and anxiety. Eating disorders are also more common during periods of isolation, and risky drinking and other substance problems may also be more common.
“What concerns is the transition from the state of the healthy to the non-healthy.”
Allen said the pandemic triggered many people who were already at higher risk for mental health, anxiety, or stress.
“We saw a 30 percent increase in our crisis line for people with thoughts of suicide during the pandemic.”
Resources are available and many provinces have made assistance more accessible in the face of the pandemic.
Virtual addiction and mental health support are available to Albertans as well as other resources through Alberta Health Services. Togetherall is a clinically-moderated, online, peer-to-peer mental health community that is open 24/7 and free to all Albertans over the age of 16. Albertans can also use the Crisis Text Line (Text CONNECT to 741741).
On Friday, the opposition NDP called on the provincial government to “launch a simple online tool that Albertans can use to assess their mental health needs and then link them to five provincially insured sessions with a registered health care provider.
“Using the provincial health plan does not mean any expense for anyone with a provincial health number,” the NDP said in a press release.
The opposition said the cost would depend on admission, but the party recommended that the government pledge up to $ 100 million.
Ontario and Manitoba have made therapy free for residents through Morneau Shepell’s myICBT.com. People in other provinces can access the same virtual cognitive behavioral therapy. Although it is not free, it is much cheaper than conventional therapy.
“It’s very effective and very convenient,” Allen said of CBT. “It helps people see situations realistically … develop skills for dealing with emotions, understanding how they affect their behavior” and encouraging active management of those emotions and reactions to bring back a sense of control.
Another benefit of this type of therapy? “It is delivered in an online format very effectively,” said Allen.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In an emergency, please call 911 for immediate assistance.
Canada’s Suicide Prevention, Depression, and Child Aid Association at 1-800-668-6868 has every means to get help if you or someone you know has a mental health problem.
Albertans can access services by calling the Mental Health Helpline 1-877-303-2642 or visiting www.ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes. The Addiction Helpline is 1-866-332-2322.
If you or someone you know is ill-treated or is involved in an abusive situation, contact the Canadian Crime Victims Resource Center for help. They can also be reached toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
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