Tom Kelly knows what it's like to feel overwhelmed, like what many people heading into Ontario's latest shutdown may be feeling.
Kelly, 59, has struggled with mental illness for as long as he can remember. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has spent years living on the street and in various psychiatric hospitals.
One thing he has learned through his struggle is the importance of making connections. His ability to do that virtually throughout the pandemic has helped immensely.
"When we do those small things, it makes these challenging times a little easier to get through," Kelly said.
For the past five years, Kelly has been working at Psychiatric Survivors of Ottawa where he participates in virtual peer support groups weekly. He uses his extra time at home to connect with people who he might not normally have time to chat with.
"We're not going to get back to normal but we're going to get back to something different," Kelly said.
'Emergency brake' begins
Kelly's advice comes as Ontario begins another shutdown to curb the surge in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations. The "emergency brake" came into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will be in place for at least four weeks.
Measures include more restrictions on social gatherings, limits on shopping, personal care and a ban on indoor and outdoor dining. Using facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness is also prohibited as are day camps.
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With improving weather, and more people being eligible for vaccinations, medical professionals say slamming on the brakes again can be especially challenging for those already struggling.
"We sort of see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the light of the tunnel keeps moving," Dr. Tim Lau said.
Knowing when to get help
Lau is a psychiatrist who, among other roles, heads up the geriatric unit at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. As the pandemic drags on, Lau said there is little doubt that more people are suffering from anxiety, depression and burnout.
"Many people I know who have never been off have gone off on sick leave," Lau said.
He advises people who are struggling to check their mental health vitals. For example:
Are you getting enough sleep?
Have you seen changes in your appetite?
Have you lost your sense of humour?
Are you different than you were before?
"If you're below water and sinking, you have to be aware of it to get help," Lau said.
The Royal has several mental health resources available for those who are struggling: