The COVID-19 pandemic is taking an emotional toll on people in British Columbia, as 71 per cent of adults report feeling so-called negative emotions.
The five most common responses across British Columbia were “worried or anxious,” “bored,” “stressed,” “lonely or isolated” and, on a positive note, “hopeful.”
This is according to the third round of data from the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey, released by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers to mark CMHA’s 70th annual Mental Health Week.
“The theme of Mental Health Week this year is understanding our emotions,” said Jonny Morris, chief executive officer of the CMHA’s B.C. Division.
“It’s striking to see that in the midst of feelings of worry, boredom, loneliness and stress, 31 per cent of British Columbians also said they felt hopeful. All of these feelings are important to acknowledge and, during Mental Health Week, we’re reminding people to be honest and real about how they’re feeling.”
The CMHA noted emotions represent inner mental states. They arise in response to life events and experiences and can initiate changes in the body and in behaviours.
Some emotions are a positive experience, such as feeling calm, hopeful or secure, while others are more challenging, such as anxiety, sadness, anger and hopelessness.
One’s emotional responses to significant events, such as the pandemic, both reflect and contribute to overall mental health status.
“Good mental health is not about being happy all the time, but about having appropriate emotional and behavioural responses to stressors and life events,” said lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use.
“Sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is particularly important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.”
Research shows that putting negative emotions into words disrupts and reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that drives responses to stress and fear.
The act of naming emotions can actually help people feel calmer and help us all understand what we’re going through.
However, it is important to know when anxious feelings become a cause for concern.
Feeling anxious is not the same as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but emotions give us clues as to how we’re really doing.
Indeed, those experiencing the most challenging emotions related to the pandemic were also the most likely to report a decline in their mental health, as well as suicidal thoughts.
“It’s time to seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed for prolonged periods of time or have persistent feelings of worry, anger or despair,” said Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health at UBC.
“Or if challenging emotions are interrupting your daily functioning, negatively impacting your relationships, your ability to work or enjoy life or causing you to rely on substances to cope. If you are having thoughts or feelings of suicide, you should seek help for your mental health.”
The impact of the pandemic on suicide rates in society is complex; however, suicidal thoughts and feelings in the general Canadian population remain elevated, at eight per cent, compared to six per cent in the spring of 2020 and 2.5 per cent observed nationally in pre-pandemic 2016.
Overall, a large number of British Columbians (37 per cent) report a decline in their mental health since the onset of the pandemic. The good news is most British Columbians (82 per cent) say they are coping at least fairly well with the stress of the pandemic, using approaches such as walking or exercising outside (58 per cent), connecting with family and friends virtually (40 per cent), maintaining a healthy lifestyle (44 per cent), keeping up to date with relevant information (38 per cent) and doing a hobby (41 per cent).
British Columbians also report they have increased their screen time (60 per cent), are consuming more food (31 per cent), are doing more online shopping for items they don’t need (18 per cent) and are using more substances like drugs and alcohol to cope with the pandemic (12 per cent).
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote the importance of emotions and the role that understanding them plays in good mental health. Mental Health Week is supported by major partner Shoppers Drug Mart, as well as Westland Insurance, Leith Wheeler, Rogers TV and the Not Myself Today program.
To get involved, you can:
• Learn more about mental health and emotions at www.mentalhealthweek.ca;
• Share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal and #MentalHealthWeek;
• Donate to support CMHA mental health programs and services at https://donate.cmha.bc.ca/help_4_mental_health;
• Connect. If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of British Columbia’s mental health portal. If you are in crisis call 310-6789 or dial or dial 911.