Pandemic stresses create need for added mental health services on PEI

·5 min read

COVID-19 has been taking a toll on Atlantic Canadians’ mental health, according to a nationwide survey.

This is causing extra concern for mental health through the holiday season.

“Cold weather, uncertainty, eroded social networks and restrictions on holiday gatherings are hitting at a time when people are already anxious, hopeless and fearful things are going to get worse,” said CMHA’s national CEO, Margaret Eaton.

“I am afraid many people are in such despair they can’t see past it.”

Suicidality has increased this fall among Canadians with 10 per cent experiencing recent thoughts or feelings of suicide, up from six per cent in the spring and up from 2.5 per cent throughout pre-pandemic 2019.

The results of the survey were released in early December.

The majority of Atlantic Canadians, 69 per cent, indicated they were worried about a second wave of the virus, with 55 per cent worried about a loved one or family member dying, and only 26 per cent feeling hopeful.

Ms Eaton said few Atlantic Canadians are getting mental health services and the support they need. Many are relying on a combination of healthy and unhealthy strategies to cope.

Sixteen per cent of people in Atlantic Canada indicated they have increased alcohol use during the pandemic, 11 per cent increased cannabis use and six per cent increased use of prescription medication.

Ms Eaton said more mental health services and supports are needed in PEI.

“A lot of money for mental health goes into hospitals and psychiatrists but that might not be what most people need to feel better.”

She said resources like hospitals and psychiatrists are important, but she added, “There is a big gap there in providing what are less expensive supports for anxiety and depression which is what many Canadians experience.”

“We have a fantastic CMHA in PEI providing on-the-ground support but they are underfunded for what they do, especially considering the demand which has increased due to COVID.”

Ms Eaton said less expensive interventions such as the on-the-ground mental health care CMHA strives to provide Islanders could help reduce crises, calls to 911 and the load on hospitals and psychiatrists.

Ms Eaton and the Canadian Mental Health Association aren’t the only ones worried about mental health this holiday season.

“These are trying times filled with lots of difficult emotions,” Dr Jacqueline (Jackie) Roche, a clinical psychologist with Health PEI, said.

“Islanders are dealing with grief over the disruption of some holiday traditions, financial uncertainty, and stress associated with frequently having to adapt to big changes.”

She believes that together Islanders can get through this.To help everyone along, Dr Roche along with her colleague Dr Jacqueline Goodwin offer some coping tips.

Take care of your body. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise and spend time outside. Take deep breaths, stretch or meditate daily to support relaxation as well.

Stick to your routine. Staying active throughout the day helps to keep our moods steady and can bring us a feeling of satisfaction.

Get good sleep. Keep a regular wake-up time and minimize naps. Avoid caffeine in the evenings and limit screen time in the hour before bed.

Stay connected. Reach out via phone, text, or video chat to friends, neighbours and loved ones. Where restrictions allow, socialize in person.

Keep up to date. Stay tuned to what’s happening with the pandemic by visiting trustworthy sources such as the Government of Prince Edward Island or the World Health Organization but be mindful of the time you spend and make sure to take breaks.

Get creative. Plan new ways to keep traditions alive. Do virtual family gatherings, share Christmas sweater photos or make a donation to a charity close to your heart.

Embrace it. Try thinking of this year as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy a quieter holiday season. Spend quality time with immediate family members, catch up on those books you’ve been wanting to read, learn a new activity or skill, or set some goals for 2021.

Set clear boundaries. If you feel stressed, overwhelmed or pressured, feel free to place limits on the activities that you and your family take part in. Plan ahead for stressful people, places or things and remember, it’s okay to say no.

Find meaning. Remember that what’s most important about the holidays is not the gifts, but the quality time spent with loved ones. Make a plan for you and your family, to enjoy the company of those who are safe and supportive.

“The holidays are a challenging time for many, and it’s a key time to be mindful of your mental health,” said Dr. Jacqueline Goodwin. “If you’re noticing a number of the following symptoms over the course of a two-week period and they are getting in the way of your life, reach out to a registered health professional for guidance.”

Behaviours/Doing

· trouble sleeping

· avoiding going out even within public guidelines, being active, or talking to people

· too much TV or social media time about COVID-19 or pandemics

· not wanting to get out of bed

· excessive eating, drinking or prescriptions drugs

Thoughts/Thinking

· consumed by thoughts about COVID-19

· frequent thoughts about self or loved ones being in danger

· significant and frequent worry about the future

Emotions/Feeling

· crying more

· feeling anxious, depressed or having panic attacks

· chronic feelings of anger, guilt, helplessness, or confusion

· feeling numb often

· having little patience, feeling frequently irritable

Help is available. You don’t have to do it alone. Islanders can refer themselves or their loved ones to many services available in person, over the phone or online. A full list of all existing supports and services is available on the Health PEI website – Mental Health Services

Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic