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Most Canadians worry COVID will never go away

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New research shows chronic stress taking toll on individuals and organizations 

TORONTO (ONTARIO) Mar. 1, 2022 – Far from feeling the pandemic is over, most people in Canada are stressed about what’s next, with 64% worried about new variants and 57% worried about COVID-19 circulating in the population for years to come. Two years of pandemic-related stressors, including grief and trauma, are likely to lead to significant long-term mental health effects on both our population and the frontline mental health providers caring for them. This according to Round 4 of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers, and CMHA’s Running on empty: how community mental health organizations have fared on the frontlines of COVID-19, both released today.  

“We’re seeing the signs of chronic stress on the population,” says Margaret Eaton, National CEO of CMHA. “Unfortunately, community mental health organizations have drawn on shallow reserves to meet people’s mental health needs during COVID, and now they’re running on empty. It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.”

The chronic stress of dealing with the pandemic is taking its toll, making basic decisions harder, sapping our energy and leaving people plain tired or burnt out. Nearly half (46%) of Canadians are stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty.

“We’re seeing big differences—or inequities—in how different groups of people are affected by the pandemic. This is dividing our society into haves and have-nots when it comes to mental health and illness,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the longstanding service gaps and systemic barriers in our systems.”

Over a third (37%) say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic and this spikes in vulnerable groups such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (57%), had a pre-existing mental health condition (54%), identify as LGBTQ2+ (49%), are students (47%), have a disability (44%) or are Indigenous (42%). Over a third (36%) of Canadians are worried about the compounding effects of climate change on top of COVID-19 and eight per cent have had recent thoughts or feelings of suicide.

Millions of Canadians who cannot get the mental health help they need due to long wait lists or high costs, rely on free mental health and addictions services and supports provided by the not-for-profit sector, but these organizations are strained to breaking.

“The community mental health and addictions sector cannot meet these growing needs with the current funding model,” says Eaton. “Between chronic underfunding, patchwork services and people not knowing where to go, Canadians are not getting the help they need when they need it.”

Almost one in five (17%) Canadians felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it because: they didn’t know how or where to get it (36%), couldn’t afford to pay (36%), couldn’t get access (29%) or because insurance didn’t cover it (19%).

“Improving Canadians’ mental health is about more than just increasing access to care,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “We need to address the root causes of mental health inequities through promotion and prevention, in addition to treatment.”

In Running on Empty, CMHA calls on the federal government to better fund, support and integrate community mental health services within the healthcare system and: establish long-term and stable federal funding for key programs, services and supports in the community mental health sector; invest in mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programs and strategies; publicly fund community-based counseling and psychotherapy; and invest in housing, income supports and food security.

“We’re so grateful for all our community mental health providers who have been creative and compassionate in meeting people’s needs, but this ‘emergency mode’ isn’t sustainable for staff or clients who need stable, long-term help,” says Eaton. “It’s time to overhaul our mental health system and invest in social supports that are proven to improve well-being.”

Getting help

If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal. If you are in crisis, please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada (1-866-277-3553 in Quebec) or dial 911.

About the survey
The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox from Nov. 29 – Dec. 7, 2021, to a representative sample of 3,030 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. The fourth round of this national monitoring survey was made possible by generous support from Co-operators. To access a complete summary of the findings, please click here.

About the report

The report uses in-depth interviews across all provinces and the Yukon territory to outline how community mental health organizations have been impacted by and responded to the pandemic. The research was made possible by generous support from Co-operators. To access the complete report, please click here.

About the Canadian Mental Health Association
Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada. Through a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory, CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, support recovery and resilience, and enable all Canadians to flourish and thrive. For more information, please visit www.cmha.ca.

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For media inquiries:
Katherine Janson
National Director of Communications
Canadian Mental Health Association
[email protected]

Alex Walls
Media Relations Specialist
UBC Media Relations
Phone: (604) 822-4636 | [email protected]