May 11th, 2020
Raising awareness during Mental Health Week
There’s no doubt about it, these are stressful times. Young or old, independent or not, your life has likely taken a significant change of course. The uncertainty that accompanies upheaval is daunting as schedules and regular practices are set aside and new concerns arise around health and finances. A recent survey is reporting increased levels of general stress, and more people admitting they are feeling this all the time. In many ways it is a natural response, but the challenges and the coping mechanisms that can help people work their way through stress may be new to some.
There will be those who may not recognize their concerns as being stress driven. We hear about how people are having difficulty sleeping during the pandemic. While there can be numerous causes for this, stress can fuel the problem. In addition to insomnia, the Mental Health Commission of Canada tells us stress can also lead to low energy levels, headaches, upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, aches, pains, tense muscles, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, frequent colds and infections, and a loss of sexual desire and/or ability.
It is good to know that it is normal to feel stressed and to understand that it is not as commonly admitted as it is experienced. It’s important to keep in mind that it is not unique to just you and that there are resources and supports available to help even as we maintain our physical distancing measures.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is sharing a document to help us best maintain social connections in a time of physical distancing. They want people to understand that it’s completely normal to feel disconnected right now and have some suggestions as to how to overcome some of that feeling. These include prioritizing technologies that mimic the face-to-face connection such as video chat apps and other options that allow people to see the visual cues that mean so much when we communicate. Additionally, they suggest speaking over the telephone is better than activities like texting. They also recommend scheduling time to connect with family and friends, remembering to seek out humour and light moments, and making post-pandemic plans to look forward to.
Additional resources can be found on the Canadian Mental Health Association Mental Health Week website, www.mentalhealthweek.ca. There, people can find articles, tips, communication materials, and an opportunity to learn about mental health. The government also launched a portal https://ca.portal.gs/ which focusses on mental health and substance abuse in the pandemic. It offers assessment tools, self guided materials, opportunities for group coaching and community support, along with counselling by text or phone.
Of course, the challenges related to improving the mental health of Canadians are nothing new. In last fall’s election, New Democrats campaigned on a head-to-toe health plan recognizing that mental health support is an enormous unmet need across the country. Before the pandemic, a third of Canadians struggling with mental health challenges who have expressed a need for counselling weren’t able to get it. Surveys tell us that number has increased. Mercifully, some of that void has been filled with online tools and resources that can be of assistance, but we still firmly believe that mental health care should be available at no cost for people who need it.
As we move beyond Mental Health Week, we must maintain a focus on this important feature of the pandemic. Canadians have a lot to hold their heads high about as we evaluate how our measures are flattening the curve for the spread of COVID-19. Let’s keep that in mind as we struggle to work our way through the unique challenges, such as increased stress, this event has created.