Your mental health worries and COVID-19
CBC Ottawa asked The Royal’s Emily Deacon for advice on dealing with the psychological impact of the pandemic
If you're feeling down during this pandemic, you're hardly alone. Nearly half of Canadians report struggling with mental health due to COVID-19.
CBC Ottawa asked for your questions on this topic, and reached out to an expert for tips on how we can start feeling better.
The Royal's Emily Deacon is a director and registered social worker who's been hearing from many anxious people across this city. On Wednesday, she was part of CBC Ottawa's weekly Q&A, tackling concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on your life.
Here's part of the conversation. It has been edited for length.
Q: Hi, my name is Scott and I have a friend who is married with children that seems to be having a complete breakdown. She's cut off all communication with her family and those that love her. This is creating tremendous stress and anxiety for family and friends. My question is, how can we best get through to somebody who has cut off contact, and how can we get them some help?
A: I'm sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds concerning, and perhaps like it's worsening. It sounds like his friend may benefit from professional mental health support, and the best way to get access to that is through the primary care provider such as family doctors and nurse practitioners.
The hope is that Scott's friend may still have contact with her husband's family, so reaching out to those support people who may be closer to things might help.
I think it's important to know when to get professional help. The worrisome signs would be depression, anxiety, if it's affecting a person's ability to function, if sleep is disturbed, if there are panic attacks or thoughts of harming yourself or someone else — or having feelings of not coping well and not feeling like yourself.
There's so much suffering with these mental health challenges, but it is important to know that there are effective and helpful treatments. We also know that getting treatment earlier leads to better outcomes. It's important to remember that mental health services and hospitals remain open, and many services can be delivered through telemedicine.
Q: Emily Chase says: I'm a stay-at-home mom who suffered with anxiety my whole life, as well as postpartum depression. I've spent the past four years focusing on my mental health and leading a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting out of the house for play dates with fellow moms, as well as having time away such as dinner with friends in the city. Since the pandemic has started, I am now unable to do the things that I consider important to my mental health. What would you suggest to someone who is struggling with being unable to connect with friends in a group or face to face?
A: It sounds like Emily has done a lot of work to maintain her good mental health, with tools like connecting with others in groups, which really isn't possible in the same way. But many people are finding support over the phone or using tools like Zoom, Facetime and House Party. I find that seeing a loved one's face or hearing their voice goes a long way to make you feel connected to them. It also helps us get that sense that we're all in this together.
We know that some people who struggled prior to this with challenges related to mental health may be more vulnerable to the negative psychological impacts of COVID-19. I would encourage staying in contact with networks of support.
Q: Nicole Villeneuve got in touch to say that she is 70 years old and she has spent the last month inside, not seeing her kids and grandchildren. She wrote to us that she misses her family terribly, especially physical contact — as she put it, "hugging the babies." What would you say to those who feel totally healthy but are experiencing these feelings of loneliness and isolation?
A: I think it's very normal. Physical distancing can be especially challenging for seniors who may have more limited social access, or who live alone. For those who have access to a computer, there are some great apps for connecting with children and grandchildren. In my family we use Caribu, which allows you to read stories to children virtually and see each other's faces. It's a great way to spend time together and give that added sense of connectivity.
Q: Mark says he is struggling as a parent with three kids aged eight and younger, and working from home. He says his life right now is a nightmare. He stays up until 3 a.m. to finish work while his wife gets up at 4:00 a.m. to start her day. He wrote, "I can parent. I can work from home. I suck at doing both." What do you say to parents who feel like they are really struggling right now with trying to raise kids and hold down jobs?
A: I would say try not to be too hard on yourself. I haven't yet spoken to a parent who has not expressed how hard this is, or that feeling that they could be doing better. I think those are natural feelings — we're really being asked to do the impossible.
It's important to focus on the things that really matter: keeping everyone safe, healthy, fed and having some nice parts of the day. The reality is maybe not all the schoolwork can be completed each day. I would encourage parents to focus on maintaining close emotional connections with your children and being there to help the kids to deal with their big feelings. It really is OK not to be perfect. We all get grumpy and we all wish that we could have handled something better.
I say to parents to be kind to yourself and please reach out for support, because you also need that to be a good parent.
If you need help
If you or someone you know is struggling, here are links to some resources that can help.
- The Royal Ottawa's COVID-19 and your mental health page
- Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 mental health page
Anyone in the Ottawa area can call the distress line for free at 613-238-3311.