Many British Columbians are struggling with their mental health this fall, feeling high levels of stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness during the second wave of the pandemic, according to a new survey.
The survey, by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University of British Columbia, found 42 per cent of British Columbians say their mental health has gotten worse since March.
“Cold weather, uncertainty, eroded social networks and restrictions on holiday gatherings are hitting at a time when people are already anxious, hopeless and fearful that things are going to get worse,” said Margaret Eaton, the national CEO of CMHA. “I am afraid that many people are in such despair that they can’t see past it.”
According to the survey, one in 10 Canadians have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings this fall, up from 6 per cent in the spring.
The survey also shows a direct connection between social stressors and deteriorating mental health, said Emily Jenkins, a nursing professor at UBC.
The CMHA says 69 per cent of British Columbians surveyed say they’re worried about the second wave of the virus, with 55 per cent concerned about a family member or loved one dying.
“As the pandemic wears on and cases and related restrictions rise, a good proportion of our population is suffering,” said Jenkins, who is also the lead researcher. “Particularly concerning, are the levels of suicidal thinking and self-harm, which have increased exponentially since before the pandemic and are further magnified in certain sub-groups of the population who were already experiencing stigma, exclusion, racism and discrimination.”
As a way to cope, 13 per cent of British Columbians report increasing their use of substances, such as alcohol, cannabis and prescription medication.
This new data highlights a need for policy-level interventions in the mental health care system in B.C., said Jonny Morris, the CEO of the B.C. division of the CMHA.
“Given this new data, the ongoing devastating losses due to the overdose crisis, and the trend of worsening mental health across the population, the Province should absolutely ensure mental health and substance use care are a top mandate priority in the coming months and beyond,” Morris said.
The survey was conducted from September 14 to 21, 2020 to a representative sample of 3,027 Canadians. The British Columbia sample size was 445.