Nova Scotia

Researchers took a snapshot of Nova Scotians' quality of life — then the pandemic hit

A new online tool by Engage Nova Scotia gives users an in-depth look at the wellbeing of Nova Scotians before the COVID-19 pandemic.

New online tool gives users in-depth look at wellbeing before COVID pandemic

A new online tool gives users a comprehensive snapshot of the wellbeing of Nova Scotians before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

A new online tool that gives users an in-depth look at the wellbeing of Nova Scotians points to the pervasive problem of loneliness and isolation in this province, even before COVID-19 pandemic kept more people apart.

The Wellbeing Mapping Tool compiles survey data from 2019 when close to 13,000 Nova Scotians responded to more than 200 questions about their quality of life.

The results are represented in an interactive map, and broken down by region and communities.

Engage Nova Scotia is the non-profit organization that developed the tool, with help from computer science researchers at Dalhousie University and other partners. 

Danny Graham is the chief engagement officer with Engage Nova Scotia, an independent non-profit organization. (Engage Nova Scotia)

"The No. 1 issue that shows up as a five-bell alarm for us relates to people's self-reported mental well-being prior to the pandemic, made worse as a result of [the pandemic]," Danny Graham with Engage Nova Scotia told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Tuesday.

He said another group of Nova Scotians who are struggling are those with an income that's generally less than $40,000 a year.

"And then there's this discrete group that ... cuts across all demographic profiles about people who are lonely and feeling disconnected from their communities and society and relationships that doesn't get discussed quite as much."

Graham said it's clear life is very different now than it was before the pandemic, but he doesn't think that invalidates the information collected in 2019.

He pointed to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing at the University of Waterloo which has completed similar surveys elsewhere in Canada before and after 2020.

"And what they're able to confidently say is that the patterns that show up for people and questions and geographies is really the same after the pandemic," Graham said.

"But the magnitude of those challenges are even greater, and they're particularly so when it comes to people's experiences of loneliness, social isolation and self-reported mental health."

What questions were people asked?

Engage Nova Scotia's tool tells "the hidden stories about how Nova Scotians are doing," said Graham, adding that the results go far beyond differences between urban and rural life.

"Demography is a much greater differentiator in people's life satisfaction than geography," he said.

Participants were asked 230 questions, ranging from their opportunities in eduction, interactions with the health-care system and job satisfaction.

They were also asked about their experience with discrimination, loneliness and their confidence in institutions and other people.

"The survey especially gives us penetrating insights about people's basic ability to be able to put food on the table, a roof over their heads and to be able to afford transportation," Graham said.

What's next?

Graham called the survey "the largest single data set on wellbeing and quality of life that exists in North America" and hopes it will lead to concrete solutions to improve people's lives in Nova Scotia.

"If we really understand the story of our residents better, we might start to see that the fragile democracy we live in, our inability to get on top of climate, poverty, housing, nutrition for children are all actually intersecting in a way that could be addressed," he said.

Engage Nova Scotia is planning to do another survey in 2024 so it can get a better picture of how the pandemic has impacted people's quality of life.

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet