British Columbia

B.C. isn't set up to cope with post-pandemic demand for mental health support, psychologist fears

COVID-19 fatigue has most people a bit more irritable and emotional these days but a Vancouver-based expert is already worried about British Columbians whose mental health will continue to be fragile after the pandemic.

UBC prof Steven Taylor anticipates 'substantial proportion' of population will develop 'lingering problems'

A Vancouver-based psychologist says evidence indicates most people will bounce back from the toll the current COVID-19 crisis has taken on mental health, but a significant amount are likely to develop lingering problems like depression. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

COVID-19 fatigue has most people a bit more irritable and emotional these days but a Vancouver-based expert is already worried about the fragility of some British Columbians' mental health after the pandemic.

UBC professor and clinical psychologist Steven Taylor said while most people will "bounce back" from the mental toll of lockdowns, self-isolation and uncertainty, some will struggle with longer-term mental health problems such as clinical depression. 

And if just an additional 10 per cent of B.C.'s population needs mental health support after the pandemic, the province's health-care system is not adequately equipped to help, he said.

"There will be a substantial proportion of people who will develop lingering problems and we don't have mental health resources for managing on that scale," Taylor said Tuesday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Steven Taylor's research and clinical work focus on anxiety disorders and related clinical conditions, including health anxiety, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Taylor is the author of the 2019 book, The Psychology of Pandemics. (vchri.ca)

The B.C. NDP invested $5 million in spring 2020 to expand existing mental health services and launch new virtual programs to help British Columbians cope during the COVID-19 crisis, as ongoing isolation and increasing financial stress weigh heavily on the population's shoulders.

Online counselling services like BounceBackBC are free with no referral required. Other services like FoundryBC, which supports people aged 12-24, are available throughout the province by voice, video and chat. 

But Taylor said the current setup is "piecemeal" and apps and online resources are not enough.

"There has been a rise in clinical depression," said Taylor, adding that governments need to plan now to ensure there are enough resources in place for not only after this pandemic, but in case of another one.

Depression vs. the 'blahs'

According to Taylor, if someone is consistently having negative, self-critical thoughts as well as feeling sad, they should consult a health practitioner to determine if they are suffering from clinical depression.

This, he said, is different from the bad moods and irritability pervading the general population right now.

"It's not exactly depression, it's more like a 'blah,'" said Taylor.

According to results of a survey published at the end of January, 62 per cent of B.C. residents are feeling more worried, 60 per cent have more stress, 59 per cent more anxiety and 59 per cent are more bored compared to pre-pandemic times. 

The survey, commissioned by Pacific Blue Cross and conducted by Insights West, also suggested females and younger people are affected to a greater degree by negative emotions during the pandemic. 

The results were based on an online survey of 815 B.C. residents conducted Jan. 20-25. A comparable margin of error for a probability based sample of this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points. 

LISTEN | Steven Taylor talks about the impacts of the pandemic on mental health:

Steven Taylor, UBC professor and clinical psychologist, talks about the desire to get vaccinated despite B.C. not having enough doses for everyone. 8:56

With files from The Early Edition

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