COVID-19 and mental health: A growing threat to Canadians

While mental health was a growing topic of concern before COVID-19, Express Scripts Canada’s data analysis has shown there was an 11% increase in the number of people who made claims for antidepressants between January and June 2020 compared to the same period last year. In addition to this striking increase, ESC’s overall claim volumes increased by 20% in the pre-isolation period, indicating that patients may have been filling medications despite warnings that stockpiling might lead to drug shortages.

This analysis suggests that Canadians were not only affected mentally by the pandemic, they were fearful that they would run out of their medications. This is further evidence of the serious impact COVID-19 is having on Canadians’ mental health.

The data also suggests that there was an increase of new users for medications used to treat depression, and these claims continue to climb. This supports the idea that Canadians are increasingly turning to mental health medications to find some relief.

The depression rate is likely to continue to increase and will remain high, especially for people considered to be a higher risk of being affected by the pandemic. This includes those who suffered a job loss, loss of a family member due to COVID-19, front-line workers at risk of catching COVID-19, among others.

It’s clear from all of this that taking care of mental health is more important than ever.

Read more: Making Headway on Mental Health

It’s okay to not be okay right now
As social animals wired for connection with others, it is no surprise that many struggled during the initial stages of the pandemic, as millions across the country self-isolated.

While the first wave is seemingly over, and since we won’t be getting “back to normal” for the foreseeable future, it is normal to experience the following feelings1:

  • a sense of being socially excluded or judged
  • concern about your children's education and well being
  • fear of getting sick with COVID-19 or of making others sick
  • worry about losing your job, not being able to work or finances
  • fear of being apart from loved ones due to isolation or physical distancing
  • helplessness, boredom, loneliness and depression due to isolation or physical distancing

Read more: Use of mental health medications increased with spread of COVID-19

Alarming statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on Canadians’ mental health
In May, Statistics Canada released findings from an online questionnaire2, which surveyed approximately 46,000 Canadians from April 24 to May 11 about their mental health and well being.

The results are startling. Here are some highlights from the report:

  • 88% experienced at least one symptom of anxiety in the two weeks before completing the survey
  • 71% reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • 69% reported becoming easily annoyed or irritable
  • 64% reported trouble relaxing
  • 52% reported their mental health was either "somewhat worse" or "much worse"
  • 41% reported symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety due to physical distancing

While youth are more likely to report a worsening mental health condition, the results for those aged 15 to 24 years showed:

  • 64% reported a negative impact on their mental health
  • 41% reported symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety

Read more: Raising healthy kids: Mental health a huge challenge for Canadian youngsters

How can I stay positive during the COVD-19 pandemic?
While this pandemic has greatly tested our mental health and well-being (especially in an age with a 24-hour, global news cycle), times of crisis have also been known to build a great resiliency in people.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, here are some tips to help cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. This includes social media.
  • Take care of your body. Practice deep breathing, stretching or meditation. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. And avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Be mindful. Try to focus on today and what you can control, like washing the dishes, taking the dog for a walk or spending quality time with your family.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Check in with your loved ones often. While social distancing guidelines now allow for a 10-person social bubble, for those outside of that bubble the use of virtual communication can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely and isolated.

Read more: Kindness: The gift that gives back

While self-isolation restrictions are gradually being lifted, bringing much-needed relief to people across the country, Canadians are urged to remain vigilant in wearing masks, washing their hands frequently and maintain a two-metre distance from those who live outside their household or their social bubble of 10 people.

As we work to manage our lives due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one thing is for sure – we will get through this, together.