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Canadians report worsening mental health in pandemic: Angus Reid

Younger women report feeling more isolated and having worse mental health than last year, whereas vast majority of older people report good mental health
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More Canadians are reporting isolation and loneliness as the country heads into winter and the threat of more social and economic restrictions from a second surge of COVID-19 cases looms, an Angus Reid Institute (ARI) poll shows.

“As Canadians have become more isolated, many are voicing concerns about their mental health. Last year, two-thirds (67%) said their mental health was good or very good; this year just 53% say the same,” the non-profit research firm found.

The troubling findings vary among different demographics, such as age, gender, family bonds, employment status and political leanings. Depending on what kind of person you are and the circumstances you find yourself in, you may be taking a different approach to the coronavirus pandemic, ARI states. 

Overall, one in three Canadians reports having a “poor” or “very poor” social life, whereas in 2019 just 14% did so.

Much of this correlates with limited interactions outside the home, such as not going to community events, such as concerts; not volunteering; and not mingling in the community, in general, such as visiting a library or a community centre.

“At the community level, nearly all activities outside of socializing with neighbours have evaporated,” notes ARI.

As such, since 2019, “the proportion who are somewhat isolated has risen by five percentage points (now 27%), and even more starkly, the proportion of those who are very isolated has risen by 14 points (now 43%).”

Isolation, according to the poll, is considered by the number and frequency of interpersonal connections a person has.

There are a few silver linings, such as relatively stable household relationships. While people have lost touch more with their close friends, their relationships with spouses and family members have not changed much since last year. And interactions with neighbours (67%) this year has not dropped off much since 2019 (73%).

The poll suggests people over age 55 are reporting better mental health than younger Canadians aged 18-34 (69% and 44%, respectively). Despite this, the number of Canadians over 55 who say they would rather see more of people has nearly doubled, from 18% last year to 33%.

It is women aged 18-34 who report the worst mental health, with 30% ranking it “poor/very poor” as opposed to 25% of their male counterparts.

Combined, men and women aged 18-34 reported the biggest jump in feeling “very isolated” – just 27% in 2019 but 47% following the pandemic.

People who have lost work report worse mental health than those who have not. Losing a job also contributed to greater feelings of isolation and loneliness.

There are also regional imbalances. Fewer people in B.C. (38%) reported being at least moderately connected than any other province, whereas 44% of people in Quebec reported at least moderate connections.

Our mental wellbeing also correlates to how we worry about getting ill with COVID-19. Overall, 67% of people have concerns about the disease. However, 72% who are isolated and lonely are concerned, whereas just 52% who are well connected to others feel the same way.

Political partisanship also correlates to our concerns about COVID-19, with Conservatives showing the least amount of concern (54%), followed by New Democrats (73%) and then Liberals (85%).

The poll also looks at some of the coping mechanisms Canadians are using to socially interact, namely video calling apps, such as Zoom. 

“Birthday parties and celebrations over Zoom have become commonplace, and large events like Canada Day festivities and Thanksgiving have become smaller,” states ARI.

Whereas in 2019 38% of people used these apps, following the pandemic 55% of Canadians adopted them. Those over the age of 55 showed the biggest spike in video calling.

But this technology is not making us feel better, on the whole, according to ARI.

“Unfortunately, while video calling is appreciated, the percentage of those saying it is making them feel truly connected has plummeted as usage has increased. Canadians who use these services are now equally likely to say that it makes them feel connected (47%) or that it’s just better than nothing (47%).”

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