Are You Okay? Keeping Tabs on Mental Health

The toll of the pandemic on the mental health of Canadians is increasingly alarming. What began as a sudden, unprecedented disruption has turned to months of uncertainty, stress, change, and isolation.

A study from the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of British Columbia shows 40% of those surveyed said that their mental health had deteriorated since the COVID-19 outbreak began, a figure that rose to 61% among those with a pre-existing mental-health issue.

We are not well equipped to handle long periods of crisis. Our fight-or-flight instinct helps us deal with imminent threats to our safety. When exposed to chronic stress, our system goes into overdrive, leading to long-term exposure to the hormone cortisol. Its effect? Increased inflammation, leading to diverse symptoms such as rashes, stomach aches, and headaches through to depression and loneliness.

While the arrival of vaccines signals hope for recovery and reopening throughout 2021, we will continue to live in a changed reality for months to come—particularly in tourism. The full resumption of the travel economy in Canada depends not just on the uptake of the vaccine here, but worldwide. We recognize that many jobs have been lost, businesses shuttered, and lives altered. It will take time to get back on our feet. As we do so—and even once we have—it is vital for us to support each other and take care of ourselves as we try to manage the disruption to our lives.

To help with this, we’ve collected a number of resources to understand the mental health implications of the pandemic and offer ways to help process the ongoing stress. Our hope is these will raise awareness of what signs and symptoms to look for in oneself and others, and direct us all to the expert advice and guidance that will help us cope in a healthy, positive way.

First and foremost: if you are in immediate danger, please contact emergency services for your area.

You can also access support workers, social workers, psychologists, and other professionals—confidentially—by texting WELLNESS to:

  • 686868 for youth
  • 741741 for adults

The Mental Health Commission of Canada provides this graph summarizing the mental health continuum model and corresponding actions to take.

It’s OK not to be OK. The Government of Canada wisely asserts that fear, stress, and worry are normal in a crisis. You might feel like you’re no longer in control of things. It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared, or worried. People react in different ways. Some common feelings include:

  • A sense of being socially excluded or judged
  • Concern about your children’s education and well-being
  • Fear of getting sick with COVID-19 or of making others sick
  • Worry about losing your job, not being able to work, or finances
  • Fear of being apart from loved ones due to isolation or physical distancing
  • Helplessness, boredom, loneliness, and depression due to isolation or physical distancing

Find a way to cope that works for you. You may want to get out and run no matter what the weather or try simple stretches in the comfort of your home. You may want to chat on the phone for hours or find five minutes of peace and quiet in a crowded house. Below is some overarching advice to help guide healthy strategies:

  • Stay socially connected, whether it’s video chat, social media, or even snail mail
  • Practise mindfulness, from simple deep breaths to a guided meditation routine
  • Try to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and get adequate, restful sleep
  • Limit your use of substances
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Be kind to yourself and others

Seek support—anytime. While some may feel like they need to reach breaking point before seeking professional support, please know that it’s okay to reach out even if you’re just needing another perspective or have questions about healthy behaviours. The sooner you feel supported and understood, the more manageable the stress is.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has curated this excellent list of resources:

Anxiety Canada

Bell Lets Talk

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

Canadian Women’s Foundation

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

The Family Institute: Counseling@Northwestern

Health Standards Organization (HSO) and Accreditation Canada

Mood Disorders Society of Canada

Morneau Shepell

Ontario Network of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres

The Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association has partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to offer this industry resource:

Targeted Support for Employers and Managers

In the hard-hit tourism sector, employers are facing the stress of both managing their own mental health and that of their staff amidst increasing restrictions, financial struggles, and uncertainty around when and how the welcome news of a vaccine will affect the reopening of the travel economy…and whether their business can stay afloat until then.

As stated by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, while managers are not—and should not be expected to be—medical experts, they need to be comfortable having discussions about mental health and recognize they will often be the first port of call when a colleague wants to raise an issue.

The Institute recommends employers:

  • Support and guide their managers so that they feel equipped to have sensitive and supportive discussions with staff
  • Remind managers about the importance of communicating regularly with their team and asking how they are.
  • Encourage staff to practise self-care such as a healthy routine for diet, sleep, and relaxation
  • Promote their existing health and well-being benefits and support, for example signposting people to their counselling helpline.

Below we offer some resources to help managers and HR teams with supporting their staff through the COVID crisis—and beyond.

Randstad details actions employers can take to make mental health a priority in the workplace:

Human Resources Director discusses ways in which HR can help relieve employee stress:

Harvard Business Review looks at leadership when the leaders themselves are drained:

Ottawa Public Health makes recommendations to support mental health for a variety of workplaces:

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services offers downloadable PDFs around mental health:

Make It Our Business provides guidance on how employers can help support staff subjected to domestic violence:

CEO Health & Safety Leadership Network shares a range of resources for employers, ranging from leadership behaviours to handling compassion fatigue and burnout: