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CMHA and UBC release data on emotional impact of the pandemic for Mental Health Week

Toronto, ON and Vancouver, BC (May 3, 2021) – The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on people in Canada, as 77% of adults report feeling so-called negative emotions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The five most common responses across Canada were ‘worried or anxious,’ ‘bored,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘lonely or isolated’ and ‘sad’. This is according to the third round of data from the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers to mark CMHA’s 70th annual Mental Health Week.

“While it’s discouraging to think that so many Canadians are feeling upset, difficult emotions may actually be an appropriate response to a major event like a global pandemic,” says Margaret Eaton, National CEO of CMHA. “It’s a sign of good mental health when someone can experience a full range of emotions, and recognize, understand and manage how they feel—even when it’s uncomfortable. Being able to make an emotional connection is also part of how we seek comfort and reassurance from people in our lives.”

Emotions represent our inner mental states. They arise in response to life events and experiences and can initiate changes in the body and in our behaviours. Some emotions are a positive experience, such as feeling calm, hopeful or secure and others are more challenging, such as anxiety, sadness, anger and hopelessness. Our emotional responses to significant events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, both reflect and contribute to our overall mental health status.

“The theme of Mental Health Week this year is understanding our emotions,” says CMHA Niagara Executive Director Tara McKendrick. “With all the situations and feelings being experienced right now, and in the foreseeable future, attention to self-care is paramount. To help people strengthen their mental wellness during Mental Health Week (May 3-7), CMHA Niagara is offering free virtual classrooms including office yoga, eating to optimize wellness, coping with job loss, meditation and natural alternatives to benefit the mind, body and spirit.”

“Good mental health is not about being happy all the time but having appropriate emotional and behavioural responses to stressors and life events,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “Sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is particularly important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.”

Research shows that putting your negative emotions into words disrupts and reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that drives your responses to stress and fear. The act of naming our emotions can actually help us feel calmer and help us understand what we’re going through.[1]

However, it is important to know when anxious feelings become a cause for concern. Feeling anxious is not the same as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but our emotions give us clues to how we’re really doing. Indeed, those experiencing the most challenging emotions related to the pandemic were also the most likely to report a decline in their mental health, as well as suicidal thoughts.

“It’s time to seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed for prolonged periods of time or have persistent feelings of worry, anger or despair,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “Or, if challenging emotions are interrupting your daily functioning, negatively impacting your relationships, your ability to work or enjoy life or causing you to rely on substances to cope. If you are having thoughts or feelings of suicide, you should seek help for your mental health.”

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates in our society is complex; however, suicidal thoughts and feelings in the general population remain elevated at 8%, compared to 6% in the spring of 2020 and 2.5 per cent observed nationally in pre-pandemic 2016.

Overall, a large number of Canadians (41%) report a decline in their mental health since the onset of the pandemic. The good news is most Canadians (79%) say they are coping at least fairly well with the stress of the pandemic, using approaches such as: walking or exercising outside (51%), connecting with family and friends virtually (43%), maintaining a healthy lifestyle (40%), keeping up to date with relevant information (38%) and doing a hobby (37%).

Canadians also report they have increased their screen time (57%), are consuming more food (28%), are doing more online shopping for things they don’t need (18%), and are using more substances like drugs and alcohol due to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic (13%).

The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote the importance of emotions and the role that understanding them plays in good mental health. To get involved, you can:

About the data

The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox in late January, 2021 to a representative sample of 3,034 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. It is the third round of a national montoring survey that is also aligned with work being conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. To access a complete summary of the findings, please click https://cmha.ca/documents/summary-of-findings


About CMHA Niagara

Canadian Mental Health Association, Niagara branch, has been providing mental health programs and services to assist individuals 16 years and older with their short and long-term mental health goals for more than 50 years. CMHA Niagara is a registered charity providing a continuum of mental health services. This means we assist those with early signs of mild to moderate unwellness, those with more severe daily living impacts, those with diagnosable mental illness and those recovering from mental illness.

About the Canadian Mental Health Association

Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada. Through a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory, CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, support recovery and resilience, and enable all Canadians to flourish and thrive. For more information, visit www.cmha.ca


[1] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/that-giant-tarantula-is-terrifying-but-ill-touch-it-expressing-your-emotions-can-reduce-fear.html

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