The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates mental health conditions. Some people are fortunate to be quarantined with their families, but for others, they have to face the psychological and social impacts of the outbreak alone.
In Canada, distress centers struggle to cater to the needs of their clients while dealing with the decline of volunteers and revenue. Alarmingly, migrant workers also grapple with the reality of the pandemic and their current state in Canadian society.
Survey Tackles the Worsening Mental Health of Canadians
Angus Reid Institute, Canada’s non-profit foundation, found that 26% of Canadians fell into the Hardest Hit category, 24% had been struggling mentally, and 16% had been struggling financially. Only 34% said they were managing well during the pandemic. When asked which words best described what they had been feeling the most, 44% said they were worried, 41% were anxious, 34% were grateful, 30% were bored, and 19% were optimistic. Further, 16% of Canadians said they were depressed, 14% felt normal, and 11% answered untroubled. 9% of Canadians felt numb or pessimistic and only 6% were happy.
Women (39% of women aged 18-34 years; 50% of those aged 35-54 years; 53% of those aged 55 and above) were more likely than their male counterparts to say they were worried in the last couple of weeks (31%; 41%; 42%). The former (53%; 51%; 41%) were also more likely than men (40%; 35%; 26%) to report feeling anxious during the pandemic. Likewise, women (41%; 40%; 39%) were more likely than men (44%; 31%; 27%) to say that they were grateful. On the other hand, women (37%; 25%; 25%) were less likely than men (44%; 31%; 27%) to report feelings of boredom.
Regarding Canadians’ mental health, 50% said their mental wellness has worsened in the last weeks, 42% said there was no change in their mental health, and only 7% said it was a lot or a little better than six weeks ago. As for their physical health, 46% answered “no change,” 42% said their physical wellbeing has worsened, and 12% said it was a lot or a little better over the past weeks.
Another aspect the report explored was the increased time spent with housemates such as partners, children, parents, and roommates. Overall, 62% said there was no change in the respondents’ relationships with their housemates, 24% said it got a little or a lot better than six weeks ago, and 14% reported that their relationships had gotten a little or a lot worse over the past weeks.
As for the impact on relationships within and outside of the household, 57% of respondents said their relationships with friends and family outside their household did not change (versus 62% who said the same regarding their relationships with people in their household). 32% said it had gotten a little or a lot worse (versus 14%) and 11% said it was a lot or a little better (versus 24%).
More Calls, Less Staff
Many distress centers in Canada are about to close due to a reduction in volunteers and revenue, reported Teresa Wright of Global CA News, a television network. Stephanie MacKendrick, CEO of Crisis Services Canada, said her organization depends on a network of about 100 community distress centers across the Country to handle calls from individuals.
Those distress centers also cater to the requests of callers looking for other either crisis and mental services or information. However, they have seen a spike of 30 to 50% more crisis calls since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hence, distress centers struggle to meet the demands of people as the number of volunteers continue to decline. These individuals play a critical role in those centers, but sadly, some distress centers saying that they have lost about 90% of volunteers.
Although centers have turned to paid staff, their cash flows have been affected since their main sources of income, specifically training and workshops, have been drained due to the crisis. MacKendrick explained, “By intervening and having someone to talk to, it keeps people out of emergency rooms, it reduces the calls to 911 to bring in emergency services, and in a pandemic, that’s especially important.”
Elizabeth Newcombe, executive director of the Vancouver Island Crisis Society and also part of the Crisis Line Association of B.C, noted that their center does not depend on volunteers, unlike other centers. However, expenses for new paid staff, training, and helping employees to transition to remote work drastically increased her expenses to $20,000 a month.
Newcombe added other distress centers are spending money to have their employees attend the calls due to a shortage of volunteers. For her, this is the perfect storm since considering the increased call volume and a less number of employees who will answer these calls.
How About Migrant Workers Who Are Facing Mental Health Problems?
Migrant workers are forced to share their living quarters with other workers, which will make it harder for them to maintain social distancing, noted Tanya Basok and Glynis George. They are left unprotected from the COVID-19, as well as its social and emotional impacts. One Guatemalan worker said, “The problem is that we are many people living in a single house. At this moment there are 60…. In the rooms with bunk beds.”
The decline of the mental health of migrant workers can be exacerbated by their fear of being infected or infecting others with the virus. Prior to the outbreak, they have always felt excluded. One migrant worker said, “People look at you differently. You are stereotyped…. Everyone always judges you.”
Migrant workers produce, harvest, slaughter, and process the food Canadians eat. Canadians can consume the food the migrants produce, bath, and isolate without the looming fear of deportation. However, migrant workers should also be educated in social distancing, mental illness, and wellness during the pandemic.
A study of migrant workers in British Columbia revealed that loneliness, social isolation, and feelings of unworthiness trigger depression and anxiety, stated Susana Caxaj and Luis Diaz of Emerald Insight, a journal, book, and case studies portal. Hence, depression and anxiety are likely to deteriorate the mental health of migrants considering the measures and restrictions used to curb the virus’s spread.
Migrants need to have open access to the internet and information in their own languages to keep up with the latest news about COVID-19, as well as their family’s wellbeing. Their housing needs to be changed to cater to their safety and health. Canadians are practicing self-isolation at home, but for migrants, their home is far from what people call home.
There are more issues that plague Canada’s mental health system. Migrant workers should be provided with proper housing to ensure their safety. They should also have access to information regarding the outbreak and information related to mental health.