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Surrey RCMP say mental health calls remain high, families struggling amid pandemic

Last Updated Apr 22, 2021 at 8:53 pm PDT

(iStock image)

In Surrey, mental health calls to 911 surged last year, with 8,288 in 2020 compared with 7,078 in 2019

Sgt. Elenore Sturko says while police will respond, health and social services are best equipped

Young people struggle as isolation, pandemic fatigue compound usual stresses

SURREY, BC (NEWS 1130) — Local police are asking families having a tough time coping because of public safety orders to seek help before a crisis requires urgent action.

Sgt. Elenore Sturko, with the Surrey RCMP, says mental health calls to 911 surged last year, with 8,288 in 2020 compared with 7,078 in 2019. Calls continue to be high in the first months of 2021.

“One of the things, especially with the rise in mental health calls for services is that we really encourage people to reach out for help, to a health care provider, or even call the police if that’s your option at the earliest sign of trouble,” she says.

“The commonality between a lot of our mental health calls we go to is there are family members involved in impacted by struggles in the home related to mental health and mental illness. There are a lot of situations that we’ve seen where some earlier intervention probably would have assisted in at least preventing a situation where police ended up having to come.”

RELATED: ‘Such despair they can’t see past it’: Pandemic-driven mental health crises on the rise in Canada

While unable to draw a direct link between the pandemic and the increase in these calls, Sturko says tensions are high and a lot of people don’t have the outlets they used to.

“It is a difficult time, and a lot of people do feel the stress. A lot of people are under financial strain, we don’t always have the opportunities to leave our home to escape conflicts that we had in the past as a result of social distancing. Some of our regular recreation is also curtailed as a result of some of the changes we’ve had to make,” she says.

“We encourage people, even as a police service ourselves, to reach out to a health professional, to reach out to other services in the community before you reach a breaking point. It’s okay to not be okay.”

Sturko tells NEWS1130 it’s not clear how many calls are linked to teenagers clashing with their parents or other family-related disputes, but nearly 1,800 involved people who said they were suicidal. She adds Surrey RCMP outreach services have been expanded to help families which may be dealing with pandemic-fuelled stress.

‘The strain on families is immense’

Stuart Poyntz, an associate professor of communications at Simon Fraser University, says life is stressful enough for young people without factoring in a pandemic keeping them from hanging out with their friends, or playing sports.

“I think that it has been a really difficult year as we all know, especially for young people, in no small part because This is a time in your life, when you’re young, where years are long, and rich, and full. So to be asked to stay away from friends, stay away from adventures and the experiences you’re hoping for is so difficult. The burden is just added for young people,” he says.

“The strain on families is immense. So much of this is a ‘hurry up and wait’ experience that leaves us in situations of isolation. A real kind of emptiness, and a feeling of emptiness.”

“There’s a lot of social pressure on young people. People need to be heard. The advice of reaching out to doctors and other trusted public health officials is really valuable.”

Poyntz adds he’s not surprised police are reporting calls involving mental health issues are still high in 2021.

“I also think that the burdens of mental health are going to come to light now more than ever because we’ve been holding on for a year,” he says.

“There’s a sense the end, or a transition to the next time, is in sight. That makes it really difficult to hold on, brings out some of those simmering experiences that have been there. So it’s not a surprise to me, these stories of loneliness, mental health, and anxiety. We’re coming to the end of the school year. This is a very tense time in the best of circumstances.”

He’s confident the overall situation will improve in a few weeks when more people have been vaccinated, so he’s suggesting everyone just needs to hold on until then.

Poyntz also recommends struggling single parents reach out to their child’s teachers for support.