Mental health issues have been on the rise throughout the past years and have only been amplified due to the isolation COVID-19 has brought on with its restrictions and lockdowns, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Senior Consultant for the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Dave Nelson, says we hear more about mental health due to increased awareness and increased cases.
“I think it’s a combination of several things. I think prior to COVID-19 we saw more people willing to come out, with a gradual reduction in stigma. So as people have come out and spoken about their issues, it certainly looks like there’s much more going on. In years past, a lot of this stuff has been hidden and not talked about. And I think that younger people, in particular, find it much easier to speak about issues like depression and anxiety and so on and don’t have the stigma of trying to hide it. Prior to COVID that was the case. It’s still the case.
“I think there has actually been a real rise in anxiety and so on because we live in a pretty stressful society, people having to be available almost 24/7 on their devices and not really having that clear boundary between work and home. And that’s not healthy because even though some people try to have that boundary, once you’re on text, a lot of people find it difficult to not answer things and not communicate things after hours. There’s been that which has not been good,” Nelson explained.
He says that the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the difficulty of the already difficult process of getting help.
Nelson explains that one of the biggest issues when it comes to getting treatment for mental health issues is transportation by the Prairies.
“With COVID overlaying all of this, it’s really just expanding on all of these things. Access to getting adequate mental health treatment, especially in rural and remote areas, has been very difficult as well. We live in a very sparsely populated but very large province, and we need to really beef up our ability to be able to have people diagnosed accurately in a timely way and have services available to them in a timely way.”
Nelson notes an increase in depression and anxiety through the pandemic as many families are unable to see one another.
“Just not being able to see your friends or your relatives or participate in things you have before has really increased the level of anxiety and depression in many people. That has made it even harder.
“As well as that. Because of COVID, it is much harder to get a diagnosis to get treatment because the very people you might get help from might be working from home. Overall it has really made a not very good situation even worse with COVID.”
He explains that wait times do play a factor in the increase of mental health cases. He says that long wait times for diagnosis can be detrimental to the person seeking help.
“It’s quite difficult because of access to get a diagnosis. Many people go to general practitioners and that’s where a vast majority of people who have mild to moderate anxiety and depression actually get their help. But if things deteriorate or things escalate to more serious things where you might need psychiatric help, like most specialists in our province, means quite a long wait and it can mean deterioration until things get sorted out. Once things get sorted out and you get put on some medications, the secondary access issue is difficulty getting medications adjusted and reviewed.
“It’s not just a straight thing where you go get a diagnosis and some medication and all is well. Sometimes meds work and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you need more, or less or the side effects are bad. This causes a lot of concern from a lot of people if you can’t do this in a timely way.”
Because of the wait times involved for things like adjusting medication, Nelson says some patients give up taking the medication altogether, which can lead to deterioration of their mental state.
He says that this can be dangerous in certain situations.
“Quite a few people throw away their meds and get rid of them, then they begin to deteriorate if they’re suffering from a major mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorders or severe clinical depression. They can regress back into a serious situation again if they don’t keep their medications up.”
For those who feel like they are struggling with their mental health, Nelson suggests a trip to a family doctor or a walk-in clinic.
There, many issues such as depression or anxiety can be taken care of by a physician.
“I think the first step is to go to your family doctor. I know that not everybody has one, but go to a family doctor or a walk-in clinic and be honest in describing the situation. Sometimes it’s very good to take somebody who is very close to you like a family member or a friend because it’s not always easy to speak about these things when it’s yourself you’re talking about. Other times you forget or feel that things are a little unsettling to talk to a doctor about.
“Make sure that the doctor gets the most accurate picture that they can. And then do what they suggest. One of the things that works the most successfully with things like anxiety and depression is medication. But medication and counseling together work the best. Counseling helps you untangle some of the issues that you have because of the illness.”
If the issue is of a more serious nature, Nelson explains that family physicians can supply referrals to professionals who supply the proper treatment.
“If it’s something more serious and the doctor suggests you see a psychiatrist, then make sure that you get a referral for that and that you follow up on it.
“You may be in for a bit of a wait, then follow up on those kinds of things. So much is left to the person with the illness to do all of this, and at a certain level, people find it difficult, especially if you’re depressed or anxious. It’s very good to go with another person who can advocate for you and clarify any things that you might find difficult.”
But for people who are feeling suicidal, Nelson suggests going to an emergency room. He explains that the Government of Saskatchewan is currently working with hospitals to decrease the wait time for emergency rooms.
“If somebody is suicidal, you may need to go to emergency and probably have a fairly long wait. Some areas, like Saskatoon and Regina, are working with the Government of Saskatchewan to establish urgent care centres in which people will be able to get in much sooner. Right now it’s quite difficult because there is quite a long wait. But that is what you need to do.”
Nelson says that while the number of mental health cases is on the rise, he believes that people can get the help they need if they reach out.