Feel like you’re running on empty these days? You’re not alone

(File photo)

For two years, COVID-19 has plagued us.

And for two years, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) have been asking Canadians how they’re doing. Now, in the latest round of research, Canadians are saying they are stressed about what’s coming next. They’re concerned COVID-19 is here to stay.

According to the research, 64 per cent of people in Canada are worried about new variants, while 57 per cent of people in Canada are worried about COVID-19 circulating for years to come.

All of these worries amount to chronic stress for the population and it’s taking a toll, making basic decisions harder, sapping our energy and leaving people plain tired or burnt out. Nearly half (46 per cent) of Canadians are stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has equally been hammering the very people who take care of us.

In a paper released on March 1, community mental health workers and the agencies they work for, reveal that they’re on the verge of burning out.

For these not-for-profit organizations, which provide free mental health support and services, their current funding is not enough to meet existing needs, let alone the coming ones. They have worked tirelessly, and creatively to meet their clients’ needs during the pandemic. But forever underfunded and now exhausted, the not-for-profits and their staff have used up their shallow reserves and are “running on empty.”

In the paper, the professionals mention that waitlists are growing and the most significant area is for counseling.

They said that while virtual mental health services have benefited many, “they have created more barriers for folks who are low income, marginalized, and don’t have access to internet, computer, or telephone.” And that because community mental health has been so underfunded, “everything’s kind of piecemeal.”

“Many people felt that because we’re a mental health organization and COVID happened that this was the time to push even harder. But that came at the expense of a lot of people who were already under stress,” the paper said.

Time to fix the broken system

Our mental health system is a hodge-podge of public, private and not-for-profit services. Canadians are faced with long waiting lists in the public system, and high costs in the private and they don’t know where to go to get the help they need. In fact, according to the CMHA and UBC numbers, almost one in five (17 per cent) people said they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it. That’s because they didn’t know how or where to get it (36 per cent), couldn’t afford to pay (36 per cent), couldn’t get access (29 per cent) or because their insurance didn’t cover it (19 per cent).

CMHA is calling on the federal government to fix what’s broken. That means adequately funding the community mental health and addictions services. It means investing in strategies that strengthen mental health and prevent mental illness in the first place. It means free, community-based counselling and psychotherapy. And it means housing, income supports and food security, which are all essential for mental health.

With community services running on empty, Margaret Eaton, National CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, couldn’t say it better.

“It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system,” she said, adding that with over a third (37 per cent) of Canadians reporting a decline in mental health since the pandemic started, it really is the time.