'A fragile balance': Legault juggling COVID restrictions and Quebecers' mental health

·2 min read

MONTREAL — Pandemic-related restrictions in place across much of the province must remain despite the risk they bring to people's mental health, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Monday.

He told reporters the government's partial lockdown orders -- banning gatherings and shutting bars, gyms and entertainment venues in so-called red zones -- are leading people to become more isolated. That isolation, he said, is triggering more mental health problems. 

But Quebec continues to report about 1,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, the premier said, adding that the infection rate leaves him with few options. "We have no choice (but) to bring in restrictions that make people more alone," he said.

"It's a fragile balance," Legault said, regarding the need to reduce community transmission while limiting the damage it causes to people's well-being. He said the province's infection rate "brings more death."

Quebec reported 1,037 new cases of COVID-19 Monday along with 12 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations increased to 499, three more than the previous day, while the number of people in intensive care dropped by three to 81.

He said his government is trying to hire more therapists and psychologists but "it's not easy to fill these jobs." Legault said he is happy to see waiting lists to visit a mental health professional dropped from 28,000 people to 16,000 people since March, but he added that 16,000 is still too many.

Later on Monday, junior health minister Lionel Carmant announced a $100-million investment into mental health services over the next two years. The minister said the announcement was advanced by one week to reassure people following the stabbing attack in Quebec City over the weekend that left two people dead and five injured.

Quebec City's mayor said the attack highlights the need for more mental health resources in the country. Carmant told reporters, however, that Saturday's attack was "unpredictable" and "we can't connect it to the pandemic in a definitive way."

He said the state recognizes that the pandemic has negative effects on people's general well-being and mental health. But he said he wanted to make a distinction between pandemic-induced depression and mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"The distinction is important," he said, "and we have to recognize that, especially in situations like what happened this weekend, because we have to be careful to avoid confusion."

Quebec has reported a total of 108,018 COVID-19 infections and 6,283 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press