Is an ‘echo pandemic’ of mental illness coming after COVID-19?

TORONTO — The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 ravages the lungs in some who get infected, but it is certainly wreaking havoc with the mental health of virtually everyone, whether it touches them or not.

Whether you are on the front-lines in a hospital, nursing home or grocery store, or standing on the sidelines – doing your part by staying home – this pandemic is causing widespread anxiety, fear and dread.

People are afraid of the illness and what it could mean for them or their loved ones, but also about losing their jobs and paying their bills, and when, if ever, life will feel normal again.

Just like this virus, struggles with mental health affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures all over the world.

Many Canadians, estimated at one in five in any given year, personally experience a mental health problem or illness. About 8 per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.

Mark Henick is a mental health advocate, speaker and strategist who worries that once the virus emergency is brought under control, it could be followed by “a sort of echo pandemic of depression and anxiety and potentially even suicide” in the midst of “the carnage that this virus has left behind,” he told CTV News medical correspondent Avis Favaro.

Henick’s Why We Choose Suicide Tedx Talk is among the most watched in the world with more than 6 million views. And his successful search to find the man who saved him during a suicide attempt when Henick was a teen was a viral story.

But now the married father of three is living with the financial devastation of this pandemic, just like untold millions of others.

“Over the course of three days last week I had every single event that I was scheduled and contracted to do cancel for the next six months. So, you know, for me to have essentially my entire livelihood ripped out from under me within a few days has been very taxing on my own mental health as well.”

Michelle Garvey of Peterborough, Ont. overcame depression and anxiety to study to become an addiction counsellor and social services worker. But she worries that with her classes cancelled and her routine thrown into turmoil, that she could face a relapse of her symptoms.

“It’s shaken up a lot of things for me,” she said.

“Going back to school for me was something that provided the structure in my day and a new meaning to get out and get moving. So I need to continue having structure in my day so that I don’t fall back into the old ways.”

Garvey said she is reaching out to loved ones and practising mindfulness and gratitude to try to cope.

The rapid spread of this pandemic gave little chance to prepare for, or even process, all that has happened in terms of job losses and the complete upending of everyday life and relationships, says Dr. Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto.

“You lose your job overnight, you lose the security of your paycheque overnight. That is nothing short of an insult to your mental health and well-being,” he said.

“And we already know that being at work is not just a place that one takes away a paycheque, but it’s often a very important source of interpersonal connectedness.”

The immediate fallout can manifest in increased rates of addiction and depression, but McIntyre is particularly concerned about the long-term effects of this pandemic’s economic impact.

“Why I find this scary is that we know from a large body of scientific literature that there’s a close relationship between so-called macro-economic indicators, like unemployment and employment, and mental health and suicide.”

In fact, research out of the Great Depression and other economic downturns, found that a one-per-cent increase in the unemployment rate resulted in a one-per-cent uptick in the rate of suicides.

“This is not just a medical threat. This is an economic, financial threat that is going to have unbelievable effects on people’s mental health.”

The solutions have to be thought out while we are still running for cover against the virus itself, says McIntyre.

The priority must be on getting people back to work as soon as possible, and injecting resources into helping those in distress.

Henick also worries about the “downstream accumulated risk factors” if vulnerable people don’t get the long-term support they need from their landlords, employers, governments and banks.

“When this is all over, say six months from now, and they’re hit suddenly with large interest payments that have accrued on their debt, that’s going to put them in a worse-off position than they were before, and we know that financial struggles are one of the top stressors that negatively impact people’s mental health across Canada.”

Resources

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health offers a range of FAQs, self-assessment tools, and tip sheets here.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH) offers some tips to stay mentally well through these difficult times.

Canada’s National Defence department also offers some helpful tips.

World Health Organization (WHO) on coping with stress during COVID-19.

WHO on helping children cope with stress during COVID-19.

List of Canadian Crisis Centre Numbers – National and Provincial

Mental Health Commission of Canada: Tips for managing COVID-19 anxiety

Provincial and territorial resources

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Managing COVID-19 Stress, Anxiety and Depression

BC Mental Health Services

HealthLink BC mental health resources

ALBERTA

COVID-19 and your mental health

Coping and connection for children and families during COVID-19

Alberta Health Services mental health resources

Alberta Health Services program Text4Hope: a free service providing three months of daily Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)-based text messages written by mental health therapists.

ONTARIO

Ontario mental health and addiction services

Ontario promotes free mental health portal during Coronavirus pandemic

Bounce Back: Free mental health phone line support with a coach and online videos

Big White Wall: Free 24/7 peer-to-peer online mental health support network for Ontarians aged 16+

Toronto professer creates free online course to manage mental health during covid crisis

Psychotherapist Karen Dougherty created Ontario COVID-1 Therapists to offer free therapy to frontline healthcare workers

QUEBEC

Stress, Anxiety and Depression Associated With the Coronavirus COVID-19 Disease

NEW BRUNSWICK

Mental health and coping during COVID-19

Addictions and mental health

SASKATCHEWAN

Saskatchewan Mental Health and Addiction Services

MANITOBA

Government of Manitoba – Mental health and addictions

The Manitoba government launches a free online counselling program to help people struggling with anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

NOVA SCOTIA

Nova Scotia Mental Health and Addictions

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

PEI Mental health and addictions supports

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

Mental health and addictions

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

NWT Community Counselling Program

YUKON

Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services across Yukon

NUNAVUT

Government of Nunavut – Mental Health