Major declines in St. Marys, Perth County mental health found in UoG study of COVID-19 impacts

·3 min read

By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Strategic Priorities Committee, made up of St. Marys Council members, heard a report on the results from a University of Guelph study that analyzed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by rural communities.

Leith Deacon led a discussion on the findings of the study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph. The Town of St. Marys promoted the study heavily through its social media platforms and, as such, received a report on its findings. The study, which collected more than 3,600 survey responses, had five objectives listed:

- Identify vulnerable populations in Perth Counties affected by COVID-19;

- Determine priority programs to support populations during and post-COVID-19;

- Explore opportunities for the non-sector during and post-COVID-19;

- Identify emergent mental health and concerns generated by COVID-19;

- Provide locally-relevant, reliable, and valid data that can be used to advocate for funding and development.

The surveys focused on individual well-being and mental health before and after the pandemic. Responses to the survey showed participants reporting significant increases in average or below-average satisfaction with things such as physical health, mental health, personal finances, living arrangements, and personal safety.

The results then focused on the mental health effects of the pandemic, which was broken down into more granular data. Overall, there was a 45 percent decrease in people saying their mental health was excellent from before the pandemic to now. Even more concerning, there was a 78 percent increase in people saying their mental health was poor. This was also broken down by St. Marys residents specifically, who also displayed similar trends of decreasing mental health quality from before the pandemic started to after.

Deacon also broke down the results by gender, noting the results found that women reported a much steeper decline in mental wellness. Specifically, women reported a 55 percent decrease in excellent mental health, as opposed to a 26 percent fall reported by men. This disparity is at least in part due to women typically being more precariously employed and, on average, being paid less than their male counterparts. Both genders reported similar increases in poor mental health, with a 79 percent increase for women and a 76 percent increase for men. Also, females aged 18 to 39 reported an 88 percent increase in poor mental health.

Deacon strongly emphasized, however, that this information shouldn't be taken as a suggestion that men's mental health is less important than women's, and reinforced the need to make men feel more comfortable expressing their mental health issues freely and openly.

Something that surprised Deacon was presented, which had to do with mental health before and after the pandemic started, broken down by age. With older community members more at risk of serious health implications, if they contract COVID-19, it was expected that they would display the highest decrease in mental wellness. However, the results found that the most significant impacts of the pandemic on mental health were felt by younger Canadians. Specifically, they found a 75 percent decrease in excellent mental health and an 80 percent increase in poor mental health in the 18 to 29 age group. This was contrasted with a 36 percent decrease in excellent mental health and a 70 percent increase in poor mental health among people aged 70 to 79.

The next step for the researchers, according to Deacon, is to take the quantitative data collected through this survey and begin doing more qualitative research, based on the findings.

Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Marys Independent