Fighting the Mental Health Stigma Together.

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has robbed Canadians of many activities such as dining out, vacations, being with friends and family, and our beloved hockey games. But the most priceless thing COVID-19 stole from us has been our mental health. Being stuck inside, day in and day out has driven us to relive the same day over and over again. And what is most shocking is that we didn’t even realize it has been stolen from us until now.

In a March 2021 survey, Statistics Canada found that about one in five Canadian adults aged 18 and older tested positive for at least one of these mental disorders: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remember, if you felt helpless at any point during this past year, you’re not alone. These overwhelming feelings of loneliness and powerlessness are being felt by everyone. People struggle with fear and uncertainty about their own health and their loved ones’ health, concerns about employment and finances, and the social isolation that comes from public health measures such as quarantining and physical distancing (came 2020).

This pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health and overall health differently. And there’s no shame in admitting that your mental health took a hit. Look around you. Everyone was affected in some way or another.

Many people believe mental health can be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’… that mental health is back and white. I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t. Mental health is much more complicated than that. Think of the mental health spectrum as a rollercoaster. It’s not a straight journey from the black and white spaces. There is a lot of grey when it comes to the mental health spectrum. The rollercoaster takes you up and down, backwards and forwards, and then in circles. And this grey area is filled with varying symptoms of your mental health, from minimal changes such as excessive worrying, fear, and changes in your eating habits, to the more noticeable changes such as experiencing dramatic mood swings and substance abuse.

Mental health affects everyone differently. There is no one triggering symptom, and unfortunately, there is no one solution. But everyone can do their part to help each other. Talk to your loved ones. Or don’t talk, simply listen and observe. Sometimes just letting someone know you are there for them can make massive changes in their mental health.

On a positive note, across Canada, many trailblazers are advocating for more mental health resources. Specifically, Calgary has taken charge in leading this battle with the creation of the “Calgary Mental Health and Addiction Community Strategy and Action Plan 2021–2023.” This plan has been spearheaded by Calgary’s very own mental health activists Karen Gosbee and Dr. Chris Eagle. Their community strategy and action plan’s primary goal is to create hope and strengthen support for people, families, and communities in Calgary living with mental health and addiction issues.

The Action Plan outlines three steps: being well, getting help, and staying safe.

Being Well is fighting for preventative actions. Being Well wants communities, schools and employers to take action by providing support and resources to educate individuals about mental health.

Getting Help is putting their preventative actions into place. Getting Help is building a community of mental health services; these actions involve communicating and connecting across large systems, questioning how we have done things in the past and being open to trying new approaches.

Staying Safe is making sure these actions will be strong enough to survive the test of time. Staying Safe is working to provide security at all times for all Calgarians.

In 2020 CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) released ways in which all Canadians can help support each other in the battle of mental health. The recommendations vary from individual actions to government intervention.

1. Provide a Range of Mental Health Resources, Supports and Care.

This approach provides people with the most effective and least intensive services catered to their mental health needs. This means an active awareness of the resources, supports and care available to them and their finite healthcare budget.

2. Support and Expand Virtual Mental Health Services.

This recommendation works to make public health more accessible to everyone. With COVID-19, there is an increasing need to transition to virtual mental health resources, supports and care. From online resources and modules to discussion forums and apps to tele-mental health care, mental health service providers adapted quickly to the realities of the pandemic.

3. Prioritize Workplace Mental Health

Improving workplace mental health strategies needs to be adjusted to reflect remote workplaces. Mental health training should focus on resiliency, and leaders can support employee mental health through clear, compassionate and authentic leadership. A continuing commitment to creating stigma and discrimination-free work environments will remain crucial.

4. Invest in the Social Determinants of Health

Ensuring access to a range of mental health resources, supports, and care is crucial for addressing the mental health needs of Canadians. Still, it is also essential that we address the social conditions that contribute to and worsen poor mental health. This means social determinants to health, such as racism, sex and gender inequality, need to be considered. As well as creating more awareness of Canada’s poverty issues, with income supports, and dealing with the increasing rate of homelessness in Canada with more housing resources.

5. Commit to a Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy

As we move through COVID-19 and beyond, all governments must recognize that supporting Canadians’ mental health also means committing to an evidence-informed, public health approach to alcohol policy. Canadians over the age of 18 have been drinking more alcohol since the COVID-19 pandemic, which leads to acute and chronic health harms and the link between alcohol use problems and mental illness.

RU M.A Candidate / Canadian / She/her