Asked to stand together by staying apart during the COVID-19 pandemic has many Canadians finding themselves falling apart.
Quarantine and isolation are critical public health strategies for suppressing the spread of the coronavirus. But the mental health damage of these measures are too significant to ignore, according to research from the University of British Columbia.
Working in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association, UBC researchers surveyed 3,000 Canadians and found that mental health has generally worsened with the pandemic — especially among those having to self-quarantine due to close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
Two out of five participants reported having worse mental health after the pandemic began, according to research assistant Zachary Daly. “But this rises to 54 per cent among those who had to isolate due to experiencing COVID-19 symptoms,” he said.
This group also reported the highest rates of suicidal thoughts — 28 per cent — compared to just five per cent among those who have not had to quarantine or isolate.
Individuals ordered to self-isolate also reported the highest rates for self harm, at nine per cent, compared to just one per cent of Canadians who have not been asked to quarantine.
In short, if you’re feeling alone while quarantining alone, you’re not alone.
This is the first Canadian study to analyze the mental health impacts of different circumstances for quarantine and isolation, and researchers say the results have public health implications.
Overall rates of self-harm and suicidal ideas were “quite high” for everyone, said principal investigator Emily Jenkins. a UBC nursing professor. But special attention must be paid to those going into or coming out of quarantine, as they are clearly dealing with greater levels of distress.
“With COVID case numbers rapidly growing across the country, and the exponential increase in people who are having quarantine or isolation orders imposed on them, we’re really advocating for some shifts in the way things are done and the practices related to surveillance,” said Jenkins. “We want to make sure that there are strategies to mitigate some of the potential mental health harms associated with these measures.”
Rather than waiting for an individual to reach out, Jenkins urged health-care providers to conduct mental health check-ins throughout the self-isolation process and offer mental health assessments at the end. Emotional and psychological impacts can persist, even after the quarantine period is completed.
“This has been a tough year and there are not yet signs of things easing up,” she said. “The promising thing is that as we identify circumstances that may put people at risk, we can work to address these.
“It’s going to be more important than ever to protect Canadians’ well-being and manage the constant element of fear and uncertainty that people are experiencing.”