Q&A: Muskoka Lakes psychotherapist on mental health during the pandemic

·3 min read

Gordon Dalziel is a psychotherapist who opened up a new practice in Port Carling last year, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Over the past year, he’s been busier than he’s ever been in his 19 years in the practice. Dalziel shared a bit about his insights into what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to some people’s mental health and well-being.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the biggest mental health concerns you’re seeing during the pandemic?

We find ourselves in a specific context in the past 12 months that has this kind of inherent threat, that has quite serious consequences. That just elevates what might normally have been a relatively manageable level of anxiety.

The other feature of COVID-19 is that the social restriction has this isolating effect … We are profoundly social beings, and so the limiting effect of COVID-19 … has a real mental health impact.

Do you find that people who didn’t go to therapy before are trying to access therapy now?

Absolutely. That, I think, relates to this idea of, “What used to be manageable is suddenly no longer manageable to me.” I’d say half my practice right now is people I’ve never met in person. They’ve come online in the last 12 months and this is almost all people new to therapy.

What differences have you noticed in how this pandemic is affecting young adults in particular?

My practice is probably 80 per cent (people) 35 years and under and 50 per cent under 30. Even without COVID-19, this is a difficult time to be a young person.

You combine that with the COVID-19 situation, and what felt like a challenging world to be in has just become five times more challenging.

What do you find is the most common way of coping or self-care lately?

People have been reaching for coping mechanisms, like watching TV, or a more intense exercise routine. Many people have thrown themselves into their work.

I think that’s legitimate, I think it’s part of a healthy mental health diet … Sometimes there’s enough distress in someone’s life, that coping becomes the dominant experience of their life. They move from one coping mechanism to another.

There needs to be a balance. Mixed in with those times where I’m just reaching for Netflix, there need to be the opportunity to be also cared for more deeply — caring for myself and also receiving care.

What is some advice or wisdom you’d like to offer to people at this time?

1. Don’t hesitate to find help.

2. Find ways to be kind to yourself. Think about kindness as a practice you extend toward yourself and others.

3. There’s a lot of human suffering that is not pathological … We live in anxious times. COVID-19 certainly has intensified those experience for everyone. Some of the anxiety we feel about that is not a symptom of mental illness. It’s an aspect of being human.

Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com