The COVID-19 pandemic is making more British Columbians anxious and depressed, but a lot of them don’t know where to turn to for help, a new survey conducted for Pacific Blue Cross shows.
Pacific Blue Cross commissioned the research, which found the pandemic taking a toll on the mental health of British Columbians, with 52 per cent of respondents reporting poor mental health during COVID-19 versus 19 per cent before the start of the pandemic.
However, while 37 per cent reported issues with anxiety and depression, the survey also found that two-thirds weren’t sure where to turn for psychiatric or psychological help.
“I think it was surprising for us to learn that half of the public doesn’t really know how to access care, and that they’re not aware of what their options are,” said Heidi Worthington, a senior vice-president at Pacific Blue Cross, which includes psychological help and resources in its supplementary health-care benefits.
The survey, conducted among 800 adults by polling firm Insights West between Sept. 16 and 24, echoes the findings of public-health officials about how COVID-19 is wearing at the mental health of British Columbians.
Vancouver Coastal Health has seen a “substantial” increase in people experiencing anxiety, loneliness and alcohol or substance abuse, said Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, regional head of psychiatry for the health authority and Providence Health Care.
Yatham said the number of people seeking help in health-care settings initially decreased, but they have seen numbers increase the longer the “prolonged stress” of the pandemic drags on.
“It becomes a vicious cycle,” Yatham said in an earlier interview, “so you really need to implement the resilience strategies to take care of yourself.”
However, as much as cases for health authorities are rising, Worthington said their survey discovered the extent to which people might not be finding their way into the system. Only 10 per cent of respondents said they turned to a doctor or medical professional for help, though 75 per cent said they had talked to someone about their mental health, she said.
Worthington added that the biggest number of respondents, 39 per cent, said they talked to spouses or partners, but “that probably indicates that more of us actually need professional support.”
However, people are aware of crisis lines as places folks can turn to, the survey found, with 66 per cent of respondents acknowledging them as sources of help. And crisis lines are seeing rising demand, along with other layers of the system, with call volumes up 25 per cent since the start of the pandemic, said Stacy Ashton, executive director of the Crisis Intervention & Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C.
“Our baseline average day is about 120-130 calls,” Ashton said. “During the pandemic, it’s been closer to 200,” with call-takers missing about 25 calls a day.
As part of its effort, Pacific Blue Cross’s own health foundation contributed $100,000 to the centre’s crisis lines, which Ashton said will directly pay for additional staff hours to make up some of that additional demand.
“It’s tricky, people have all sorts of needs,” Ashton said, which Vancouver Coastal Health, other agencies and donors have been stepping up to meet.
Some callers only need someone to listen to in the moment, Ashton said, but for those feeling heightened anxiety or depression, their operators are sometimes referring people to services that have waiting lists.
“There seems to be a gap in accessible mid-level counselling services,” Ashton said, for instances that aren’t acute mental illness but people need additional emotional support. Without it, people either “(live) a less-happy life than they could or things worsen until you are eligible for more intensive service.”
Worthington said she hopes more employers will look at increasing benefit levels for counselling and psychology support in the insurance that they offer, considering that two-thirds of respondents to their survey reported an expectation that their mental health will get worse in the coming months.