Photo By: Emma Simpson from Unsplash

Despite the fact that many COVID-19 restrictions have been removed or are on their way to being removed, a recent study shows that many more Canadians are experiencing nervousness and stress than in the years preceding the pandemic.

This data, which might indicate that the pandemic’s mental health consequences are long-lasting, is based on a recent Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) survey on COVID-19, which received nearly 4000 responses at the end of February.

Despite a higher proportion of respondents in this poll reporting high levels of anxiety and sadness overall, many Canadians reported feeling less concerned about the virus itself and less fearful of catching it than at any other time throughout the pandemic.

Since October, the number of persons experiencing depression or anxiousness at high levels has been steady, with approximately 23 per cent of respondents expressing that they experience a high level of anxiety and 16 per cent reporting high levels of depression. This is a marked increase from pre-pandemic statistics which saw about 18 per cent of respondents reporting high levels of anxiety and 12 per cent reporting a high level of depression.

The findings of the poll indicate that a majority of Canadians are not struggling as much mentally, with more than 50 per cent expressing optimism about the future and their capacity to recover from pandemic hardships. However, the poll also reveals that a considerable segment of the population is still struggling, despite the easing of restrictions and the general decline of COVID-19 cases across the country.

Women, youth, and those facing unemployment are among those who report the highest levels of depression and anxiety. Those who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as front-line workers, reported considerably greater levels of anxiety, and many of those individuals are also experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress. Furthermore, many of those who reported similar sentiments are mothers and/or caregivers. Many of these populations were already at risk of worsening mental health before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has only seemingly increased that risk.

In terms of what is driving these reports of low mental health levels, some attribute it to the continued presence of the COVID-19 virus despite the lifting of limitations. There are other factors however, such as concern about the future and the continued increase in food costs, that also play a role. Others are also finding it difficult to break the pattern of social disengagement caused by lengthy periods of isolation during the pandemic, which potentially contributes to feelings of depression.

While the majority of this information is from individual reports, the poll reveals that diagnoses for anxiety and depression from medical professionals are also increasing compared to pre-pandemic numbers. The findings reinforce the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on Canadians’ mental health and it should be closely monitored in the coming months. 

The MHRC is a national charity organization whose goal is to improve Canadians’ lives by increasing mental health knowledge. The organization primarily advances or co-funds research that increases capacity in Canada’s mental health environment. 

Concurrently, the organization is running a number of mental health initiatives, including regular national polling on the impact of COVID-19 on Canadians, funding for Canada’s role in a global study on mental health, and a collaborative initiative focused on improving and highlighting the importance of workplace mental health.

Those who wish to connect with the MHRC and gain access to the research that they perform are urged to visit the organization’s website. MHRC may be reached by email at [email protected] if there are any questions concerning the study.