Parents and women are among the Canadians struggling most with mental health issues during the pandemic, results from several new surveys show.
The latest findings from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto — which surveyed more than 1,000 adults between Sept.18 and 22 — found around 30 per cent of parents with children under 18 still living at home report feeling depressed.
That was roughly 10 per cent higher than the percentage of adults without kids who are feeling the same, the research team found.
“People with children under 18 are dealing with a lot in the home … There’s greater anxiety and, sometimes, feelings of being down,” noted Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist in the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH.
The findings also suggest a substantial portion of the population is coping with a mental health issue, whether they’re parents or not.
One in five adults said they’ve sought out professional help for mental health concerns, according to the September CAMH survey, conducted in collaboration with the global research technology company Delvinia.
There’s a gender gap as well, with nearly a quarter of women indicating moderate to severe anxiety — higher than the 18 per cent of men reporting those feelings — and a similar finding in terms of loneliness.
The survey found overall that Canadians are growing more fearful of contracting COVID-19 — up to more than a quarter of survey respondents, from around 20 per cent in a CAMH survey conducted in the summer.
“There’s a greater sense of worry,” Hamilton said.
‘Burden’ on Canadian parents
The findings echo months of concerns that both women and parents of school-aged children — and mothers in particular — are struggling amid the pandemic, particularly while juggling work alongside the demands of raising a family while schools and child-care were shuttered.
According to Toronto-based human resources and technology company Morneau Shepell, both the gender divide and burden on parents has remained consistent throughout the pandemic.
The company’s latest survey results show individuals identifying as female had a lower mental health score than those identifying as male for the sixth consecutive month, while parents also faced lower mental health scores as well.
The monthly survey of 3,000 Canadians was conducted online from Aug. 21 to 30, and scored people’s responses regarding their mental health in comparison to pre-pandemic baseline results from 2017 to 2019.
The “burden on the minds of parents” is a significant factor in the results, noted Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell.
“Parents are dealing with the anxiety of their children, the practical challenges of balancing work and child-rearing and schooling,” she said.
Amid the second wave of COVID-19, several common concerns have also resurfaced more broadly, the survey also found, echoing concerns reported back in April and May.
The research found that the top concerns impacting mental health are:
- Financial impact of the pandemic (38 per cent).
- Fear of getting ill (34 per cent).
- Fear of a loved one dying (30 per cent).
“We’re all at higher risk as a result of the events of 2020,” Allen said.
More than 2,500 weekly calls to Toronto mental health hotline
In Toronto, the ramifications of those mental health challenges is clear in calls made to the city’s 211 hotline, launched in the spring amid the pandemic.
According to the city, partner agencies have offered mental health support to more than 66,000 residents as of Sept. 26.
Before launching the program, those partners typically handled around 400 calls in a two-week period, but afterward the calls spiked to between 2,500 and 4,500 calls in the same timeframe.
So alongside calling a hotline, what can people do if they’re struggling with mental health issues, be it a flare-up of an existing illness or first-time symptoms?
Mark Henick, a mental health advocate, writer and speaker, said for one thing, Canadians need to combat feelings of isolation and stay social — safely — as much as possible.
“Make a point of making more phone calls, for example, to people you care about and want to stay connected with,” he said.
Building community online or through social media can help if done responsibly, he added.
Henick recommends also reaching out for extra help earlier rather than later, whether that’s through friends or family, or more formally through the medical system if needed.
“Even if you’re not sure if it’s a clinical symptom, or even if it’s not interfering in your life in a big way — if you can get some low-level support, even just learning some skills early on — that’s a good thing,” he said.
“There’s no reason at all to suffer in silence.”