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A third of younger Canadians have sought mental-health treatment during COVID-19: survey

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A new poll has found that a third of young Canadians have sought treatment for mental health issues during the pandemic.

The latest poll from Nanos Research, commissioned by CTV News, found that 33.3 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 34 sought help for their mental health during the pandemic, through either counselling or treatment. This is compared to 19.5 per cent of respondents aged 35 to 54 and 5.9 per cent of respondents aged 55 and older.

In total, 18 per cent of Canadians sought professional help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll also showed that the mental-health conditions of Canadians have slowly weakened over the course of the pandemic, with 47 per cent of Canadians indicating that their mental health has worsened compared to before COVID-19, compared to 38 per cent in April 2020.

“The proportion of Canadians who report that their mental health has deteriorated compared to before the pandemic continues to increase with now almost one in two saying it is worse (18%) or somewhat worse (29%),” Nanos Research indicated in a news release. “Younger Canadians are significantly more likely to report that their mental health is worse or somewhat worse (64%) than older Canadians (31%).”

The hardest-hit region of the country appears to be Atlantic Canada, where 58.7 per cent of respondents indicated worsening mental health.

As far as what drives the negative impacts on Canadians’ mental well-being, 63 per cent of respondents cited a loss of social contacts, while 59 per cent referenced the impact of lockdowns and public health restrictions, while 50 per cent said the uncertainty about the virus is hurting their mental health.

Canadians were also asked when they thought the pandemic might end and 22.2 per cent responded 12 months, while 16.4 per cent don’t think it will end for another two years.

'CONSTANT ANXIETY'

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, a teacher and mother from Mississauga, Ont., said stressors brought on by the pandemic wore down her mental health.

"It's added this layer of constant anxiety," she said. "I now have something that I can worry about 24-7, and I can't get away from it."

Kirby-McIntosh said during the pandemic, she has been worried for the health and well-being of her husband Bruce, a dialysis patient, and for her two children, one of whom has autism.

As a teacher, she has also found it hard to connect with her students online as schools in Ontario have bounced between classrooms and virtual learning.

Social isolation has made them seem more withdrawn, and she worries that not all of them will have equal access to treatment.

"We need to make sure support is available in every community for everybody who needs it," she said.

Kirby-McIntosh said all of these anxieties about her family and students have brought on panic attacks.

"I think it's depressed all of us," she said. "It's made me live inside my head a lot more than I used to."

UNDERSTANDING SCOPE

The impact the pandemic has had on people's mental health is the subject of a massive global study endorsed by the World Psychiatric Association.

More than 200 scientists around the world are involved in an online survey project that initially aimed to collect information from 100,000 participants worldwide. The survey, called Collaborative Outcomes study on Health and Functioning during Infection Times (COH-FIT), asks questions about participants' physical and mental well-being during the pandemic. It will be followed by further surveys at six and 12 months after the end of the pandemic, as determined by the World Health Organization.

The study has since surpassed its goal, collecting more than 167,000 surveys from participants ages six and older from 155 countries.

Dr. Marco Solmi, a psychiatrist based at the University of Ottawa and one of the clinicians leading the study, told CTV News that early findings of the study show that when it comes to mental health, teens have so far been the age group most severely affected by the pandemic.

"We need to know what is happening," Solmi said. "And we need to know how to deal with this in the future if it should ever happen again." 

COPING STRATEGIES

Vancouver-based psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday feelings of stress and loneliness are on the rise in Canadians as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Kang said many people are grieving and recovering from trauma caused by the pandemic; health-care workers, teachers and parents are feeling burnt out; seniors are experiencing increased loneliness; and students are worried about their future amid the uncertainty.

To help manage these feelings, Kang suggests Canadians focus on what they can control, such as the different aspects of their daily routine.

Kang says experiencing some sunlight each day, whether outside or via a sun lamp, as well as getting a restful sleep, can help change a person's mood. She added that getting 20 minutes of daily exercise can also have a positive impact.

"We know that 20 minutes of getting your heart rate up... is as effective as medication for mild symptoms of anxiety and depression. So that's a target if you're feeling sad or down," she said.

Kang said it is also important to engage in "social bonding" with peers. Kang noted that social bonding is different from simply socializing in that it involves genuine, meaningful connections that require people to be vulnerable with one another.

Kang said having healthy tech habits can also be "mood enhancing." She explained that "junk tech" should be monitored and limited to protect one's mental well-being.

"We have to go beyond screen time and really look at the quality of what we are consuming. So we want to avoid toxic tech that's any tech related to stress, cortisol, sleep deprivation, bullying, hate all kinds of negativity online," Kang said.

While Kang says a little video gaming and mindless social media scrolling "won't kill you," she noted that too much can be harmful.

"We want tech that leads to meaningful connection, creativity and learning, so when we use tech that way, now we're using it for our health, happiness and connection -- not the other way around," she explained.

METHODOLOGY

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,049 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between Jan. 21 to 23, 2022 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The sample included both land- and cell-lines across Canada. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.

Individuals randomly called using random digit dialling with a maximum of five call backs.

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