British Columbia

Canadians in quarantine twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts, study shows

Results of a study done in partnership with UBC and the Canadian Mental Health Association has one researcher calling for more psychological support for people who must self-isolate.

Survey of thousands who have undergone mandatory self-isolation also showed increase in self-harm

The author of a recent study on the impact of mandatory quarantine measures on people's mental health is recommending those who do have to self-isolate receive a psychological assessment during and after that period. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A survey of thousands of Canadians who have had to quarantine because of COVID-19 shows that those who had to go through the period of self-isolation were twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts, researchers say.

The study, done in partnership with the UBC School of Nursing and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), has yet to be peer reviewed but the findings indicate that while critical for public health, mandatory self-isolation can have negative psychological side-effects.

"These people were much more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and deliberate self-harm," said senior author Emily Jenkins, a nursing professor.

The study involved 3,000 adults who were randomly invited by national polling vendor Maru/Matchbox to respond to a series of questions online. Responses were given between May 14 and May 29, a few months into the first wave of COVID-19.

Jenkins told CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday that 11 per cent of people surveyed who had quarantined due to COVID-19 had had suicidal thoughts within the two weeks prior to completing the survey, compared to five per cent of people who never had to isolate.

The percentage of people who had quarantined and engaged in deliberate self-harm was just under four per cent, compared to just over one per cent for people who did not have to quarantine.

Quarantined travellers fare better

Reasons for mandatory quarantine are usually because a person is either returning from travel, has been exposed to the virus, or is exhibiting symptoms.

The highest prevalence of suicidal ideation was reported among those self-isolating due to contact with someone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, compared to those isolating due to travel.

Almost 28 per cent of those who had been in contact with a symptomatic person had had suicidal thoughts. 

Jenkins said this is likely because travellers are expecting to isolate, whereas the others were not and suddenly had the unknown to worry about.

She said this does not mean she doesn't recognize the need for people to quarantine, but she would like to see precautions taken to prevent possible tragedies.

She is recommending that people in mandatory quarantine receive a mental health assessment during and after their isolation period.

Help is available

Jonny Morris, CEO of the CMHA, said the association has seen an uptick in recent months of people looking for support and resources. Call volume has also increased at the Crisis Centre of B.C.

He wants Canadians to remember there are free programs available to help people struggling with depression or loneliness, and to help parents whose children live with anxiety, as well as a range of other resources for anyone in need.

Access to these programs can be found online at cmhca.ca.

Morris told The Early Edition listeners that British Columbians have access to new, virtual mental-health supports that were set up in April to help with pandemic stress.

Anyone who is feeling stress, anxiety or depression is encouraged go to the B.C. government website for a list of services available.


How to reach out

Crisis Centre B.C.: 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-784-2433

Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789

Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311

Sunshine Coast/Sea to Sky: 1-866-661-3311

Online Chat Service for Youth: YouthInBC.com (noon-1 a.m.)

Online Chat Service for Adults: CrisisCentreChat.ca (noon-1 a.m.)

Kids Help: 1-800-668-6868, live chat counselling at kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre


If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Substance abuse
  • Purposelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hopelessness and helplessness
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Recklessness
  • Mood changes

With files from The Early Edition

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