As Covid-19 hits its one-year anniversary in this country, Canadians don’t just have fatigue from dealing with the relentless pandemic, more and more of us are dealing with serious mental health consequences.
In January, Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) released the results of a poll taken in December 2020, revealing that 22% of surveyed Canadians had been diagnosed with depression, while another 20% said they had received an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
At the same time, medical experts have concerns because the health system that had trouble coping with mental health issues before the pandemic, has serious problems now. “The high levels of anxiety and depression reported by Canadians are a serious concern, especially because Canadians are not receiving mental health supports at the same rate as before the pandemic,” confirms Dr. David Dozois, a MHRC board member.
Even the distant promise of vaccinations can cause anxiety and depression among those with “vaccine hesitancy” (about one quarter of the people surveyed by MHRC).
There’s also evidence which links falling sick with the coronavirus to developing mental health problems. For example, a United Kingdom study published in The Lancet last November found that 18% of Covid-19 patients developed mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or dementia within the three months of diagnosis. This was twice the rate of people who weren’t affected by Covid-19.
While just coming down with the prolific disease would cause stress, anxiety and depression, there are also reasons to believe that the coronavirus may also physically affect our brains and cause mental issues. It could damage the blood supply to the brain, leading to swelling of the brain tissue. Brittany LeMonda, a senior neuropsychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, points out, “If the virus directly impacts the central nervous system, this can result in significant neurological and psychiatric illness.”
Of course, if you have issues with Covid-related anxiety and depression you should start by going to your doctor and getting help. But with our health system stretched thin, many of us are looking for other ways to find help for mental health problems. For example, there’s been a huge increase in the use of medical cannabis during the pandemic. The Journal of Addictive Diseases found that medical marijuana users with mental health issues have seen a more than 90% increase in cannabis use.
Here are some of the resources and methods that people dealing with Covid-related mental health issues can turn to.
1. Online Mental Health Resources
Recognizing the pressing need that Canadians have to acquire mental health counselling and information, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Middlesex offers a roundup of online resources, including:
BounceBack: This is a free skill-building program offered by CMHA. It aims to help adults and young people, aged 15 plus, manage low moods, mild-to-moderate depression, and anxiety, stress or worry. Togetherall: This is an online peer-to-peer support community for mental health. It’s an anonymous service that allows members to help each other any time of the day or night, in a system moderated by trained practitioners. It is aimed at people with “mild to moderate need,” helping with the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Wellness Together Canada: Funded by the Government of Canada in response to the unprecedented rise in mental distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this site aims to help people on their “mental wellness journey,” addressing issues related to isolation, physical health concerns, substance use, financial and employment uncertainty, and the “emotional dialogue around racial equality.” Caregiver Support During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Aimed at caregivers in the Grey Bruce, Huron Perth, London Middlesex, Oxford and Elgin regions of Ontario (but with valuable information for caregivers everywhere), this site is designed to be an “online one-stop shop with printable tip sheets.” It covers mental health issues, protecting yourself and the person you care for, and much more.
2. CBD Oil
According to stats, an increasing number of people are turning to CBD oil to quell their fears, anxiety and other mental health issues related to the pandemic. CBD (cannabidiol) is the non-psychoactive cannabis compound getting an increasing amount of attention for its health benefits.
A CNN article, looking at whether CBD should be part of our health routines in these troubling times, points out that the cannabis compound may soothe the nervous system by working on the neurotransmitters regulating nerve cells in our brain, known as GABA receptors.
Says Dr. June Chin, author of “Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness,” “[CBD] tells your body it's time to power down — so there is a relaxation component.” This can be a particularly useful quality during the pandemic, with heightened levels of stress.
Dr. Chin also points out in the article that an increasing number of healthcare workers putting in long hours are turning to CBD to help soothe pain and inflammation in their overworked bodies, as well as getting relief from panic attacks, anxiety, depression and PTSD.
3. More Exercise
One of the great problems with the pandemic is isolation and inactivity, which can make our physical and mental health deteriorate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some ideas on how to stay physically active while social distancing. The exercises providing physical and mental benefits are divided into categories that include children and adolescents, pregnant and postpartum women, adults and older adults.
Recognizing that many people are trapped at home without exercise equipment, the CDC suggests activities that don’t require equipment or only need what we have at home, such as chairs. Walking (safely distanced) is often recommended because it gets us outside and helps with our cardiovascular health and mental condition, as well as being easy on the joints. Tai chi, yoga and lots of exercises depending on bodyweight only are also touted.
Getting an increasing amount of attention lately, terpenes are fragrant oils found in plants generally, and cannabis specifically. Not only do these volatile unsaturated hydrocarbons have a variety of flavor/aroma profiles, they may provide health benefits that include relief from sleeplessness, inflammation, pain and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress.
For example there is linalool — found in lavender, orange, mint and other plants, as well as cannabis — which has a woody, sweet and floral profile. Some initial studies show that it may help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression (more human testing needs to be done to confirm these results).
Another promising terpene is limonene. With a lemon or lime citrus profile, it helps to boost serotonin levels in the brain, working to lift the mood and lower levels of anxiety, stress and depression.
Different concentrations of different terpenes are found in various cannabis strains, so they can be smoked in flower form or used in edibles. They also exist in essential oils that can be used in aromatherapy or applied topically. In some cases, if approved for the use, terpenes can be taken orally.
To cope with the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CDC also recommends people try meditation, with its mindfulness of the present moment (helping to reduce focus on depressing thoughts of the past and anxious ones of the future).
Meditation is an ancient mind-and-body practice “that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness, and enhancing overall health and well-being.”
There’s scientific evidence that it may reduce blood pressure, the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and flare-ups of ulcerative colitis, as well as relieving the symptoms of anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Some types of meditation include:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Spiritual meditation
- Focused meditation
- Movement meditation
- Mantra meditation
- Transcendental meditation
- Progressive relaxation
- Loving-kindness meditation
- Visualization meditation
Give Yourself Some TLC
While the pandemic continues to take a terrible toll on us, it is also good to remember that we have means to win back our mental health. Whether it’s exercise, cannabis, online resources or wellness practices such as meditation and yoga, we have the tools we need to make a significant difference in our outlook and wellbeing.
We also need to remember that sometimes making a small difference in our mental health is a major victory. Giving ourselves the same understanding and TLC we’re willing to bestow on others is the first step in doing better.