Jonny Morris said it was interesting watching the effects of the season affect his colleagues in the same way as the people they help through it.
“It feels like a bit of a slog right now,” the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) B.C. chapter said from his office in Victoria. In conversations with staff, he said, “it feels different from three or four years ago, thinking about energy, motivation or excitement.”
On Jan. 17 Morris, his staff and the rest of the country endured 2022’s edition of Blue Monday; the so-called saddest day of the year, a time when most people have returned to work from holidays and may be struggling to resume winter routines.
The day feels a little more literal than years past, Morris said, given the mix of pandemic realities and plain old seasonal depression. Both have led to the mental health associations’ client numbers rising faster than in past years.
A research collaboration between the CMHA and University of British Columbia found nearly three-quarters (70 per cent) of the province’s school-aged children have experienced a deterioration in their mental health due to the pandemic. The figure jumps to 77 per cent for adults.
Although much public attention has been given to youth mental health, Morris said the mental health of seniors deserves particular attention as they face greater levels of loneliness and isolation. Older adults are also twice as likely to experience depression since the onset of the pandemic, he said, contributed to in part by the COVID deaths seen amongst their generation.
The findings paint a poor picture of performance for mental health by the province; less than half of the entire country (41 per cent) reported feeling worse since the pandemic. BounceBack – CMHA’s free skills-building program for managing low mood, anxiety and moderate depression that typically sees 5,000 referrals a year nationwide – saw a double-digit increase in referrals in 2021.
“For parents, caregivers, people who are working and people who have lost work, the mental health impacts (of the pandemic) are profound,” Morris said. “Many of us start planning at this time of the year, but that’s a tough thing to do given what’s happening in the world right now.”
Those with any amount of control over situations that stress or depress them should exercise it as much as possible, he advised.
“Money is a big stressor that’s been reported recently, which can (make people) feel out of control,” he said. “A couple of steps of control in that area might be reaching out to your bank, a credit counselling agency or speaking with a loved one about what you’re concerned about.”
Although telling someone facing financial stress to “take a walk” might not seem helpful, Morris said the relationship between mental health and moving our bodies cannot be understated. He suggests building at least 15 minutes of physical exercise into an everyday routine to improve social and tasking behaviours.
If you’re worried about someone other than yourself, Morris said, the answer is a simple one: “reach out and connect to them.”
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