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‘People cope differently,' survey finds, as more Canadians report declining mental health

Last Updated Jun 23, 2020 at 7:05 am PDT

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The battle against COVID-19 is having a dramatic effect on us mentally, a new survey finds

Experts say there's no cookie cutter solution to mental health issues amid the pandemic

Social determinants of health all impact how you might cope with declining mental health, experts say

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It appears many of us lack the skills needed to cope with high levels of stress.

New research from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Conference Board of Canada looks at root causes of COVID-19 mental health issues, with more than 1,800 people being asked about 15 key mental health indicators.

It seems 84 per cent of us are feeling worse than we were before all the job and income loss and isolation.

Among chief concerns are the well-being of family members, the future, isolation and loneliness, as well as anxiety or fear.

Further results revealed people without established coping strategies are more likely to rely on higher risk coping mechanisms such as food, alcohol, and video games, in that order.

Using at least one coping strategy that you perceive as helpful can have a positive impact on mental health, the survey finds. However, if you overdo it and make certain things like drinking or smoking marijuana a habit rather than a treat, mental health scores can start declining.

Meanwhile, people who are adapting more positively are connecting with friends and family or exercising instead of day drinking.

Move away from ‘check the box’

Social determinants of health, including income and job loss, childhood experiences, and where you live all impact how you might cope and we can no longer use “cookie cutter” solutions, says Dr. Bill Howatt, chef research of health at the Conference Board of Canada.

“So we have to move away from the ‘check the box’ [approach],” he says.

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“And we need to ensure that while we’re helping people, we can’t assume that people have these microskills; that mental fitness is something everyone has in terms of how to people are able to build social relationships, be able to problem solve, able to pay attention to their physical health.”

Howatt says medication and mindfulness helped across all 15 factors of mental health indicators and he highlighted that pets are “super, super helpful … those little critters have helped a lot of people to smile.”

“People with high mental health concern scores were more likely to engage in at-risk behaviour.

“As people’s [mental health] profiles shifted, their perceived benefit of other coping skills went down and the risk increased, which makes sense because when people feel overwhelmed and they can’t solve problems consciously … they would get into emotionally-focused problem solving.”

“This type of insight is invaluable,” says MHCC president and CEO Louise Bradley. “We cannot address the mental health impacts of COVID-19 if we don’t understand their root causes. It’s not enough to assume that mental health has declined because of the pandemic — we need to pinpoint specifics so we can find tailored solutions.”

The researchers involved say it’s important for employers to take stock of mental health support programs, and get a baseline mental health measure of staff that should be monitored closely for at least a few years.

“Employers can play a proactive role in providing employees access to resiliency and coping skills programs that can help them learn and master these skills,” Bradley says.

-With files from Dean Recksiedler