London, Ontario (December 3, 2020) – The second wave of the pandemic has intensified feelings of stress and anxiety, causing alarming levels of despair, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness in the Ontario population. This, according to the newest wave of data collected through a nationwide monitoring survey on the mental health impacts of COVID-19, released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers.
Most people in Ontario (75%) indicate they’re worried about the second wave of the virus, with 62% worried about a loved one or family member dying, and only 20% feeling hopeful. As winter approaches, 44% of Ontarians say their mental health has deteriorated since March. Additionally, 40% of Ontarians are worried about finances.
“Cold weather, uncertainty, eroded social networks and restrictions on holiday gatherings are hitting at a time when people are already anxious, hopeless and fearful that things are going to get worse,” says CMHA’s National CEO, Margaret Eaton. “I am afraid that many people are in such despair that they can’t see past it.”
Of great concern is the sharp increase in suicidality this fall, with 1 in 10 Canadians (10%) experiencing recent thoughts or feelings of suicide. That’s up from six per cent in the spring and 2.5 per cent throughout pre-pandemic 2016.
“We are seeing a direct relationship between social stressors and declining mental health,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “As the pandemic wears on and cases and related restrictions rise, a good proportion of our population is suffering. Particularly concerning are the levels of suicidal thinking and self-harm, which have increased exponentially since before the pandemic and are further magnified in certain sub-groups of the population who were already experiencing stigma, exclusion, racism and discrimination.”
Unfortunately, few Ontarians are getting mental health services and supports they need, while many are relying on a combination of healthy and unhealthy strategies to cope.
Nearly 20% have indicated that they have increased their use of substances as a way to cope. A fifth of people (22%) in Ontario have increased alcohol use, while many have also increased their use of other substances, including cannabis 12% and prescription medication 8%.
The pandemic keeps underlining that mental health is not an individual responsibility, and that policy-level interventions are required. Even before the pandemic, the mental health care system in Canada was not meeting people’s needs due to long waitlists, access issues, inequity and underfunding.
“Community mental health services can take the pressure off hospitals and acute care, which have been hit hard by COVID-19. Governments need to support services in the community, which are chronically underfunded, to ensure that people get the help they need sooner,” says Beth Mitchell, CEO of CMHA Elgin-Middlesex.
The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox from September 14-21, 2020 to a representative sample of 3,027 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. The Ontario sample was 1137.
It is the second of three strategic waves of national surveying that is also aligned with work being conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K.
To access a complete summary of the findings, please click here.
To get help:
- Need mental health and/or addictions support, call Reach Out 24/7 519-433-2023
- Need mental health crisis support, visit the 24/7 Crisis Centre at 648 Huron Street, London
- Find your local CMHA ca/find-your-cmha
- Get free mental health help at ca/bounceback or https://ca.portal.gs/
- Reach Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or kidshelpphone.ca
- Thinking of suicide? Call 1-833-456-4566 (in QC: 1-866-277-3553) or visit crisisservicescanada.ca.
- In an emergency, please call 9-1-1 or visit your nearest emergency department.
For media inquiries:
Phone: (519) 668-0624 x427
Media Relations Specialist
UBC Media Relations
Phone: (604) 822-2048