2 years into the pandemic, Canada’s mental-health system is at a crisis point

‘Even if you realize you need help — it’s very difficult to find it’: psychologist


A person walks on the streets of Vancouver during a snowfall on Jan. 4. Fifty-four per cent of Canadians said their mental health had worsened during the pandemic in a new survey. 
(Ben Nelms/CBC

Adam Miller – Mar 11, 2022 

[Excerpt] The mental health of Canadians has deteriorated in the two years since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, putting massive pressure on a mental health-care system that was
already close to a breaking point. 

In a new survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with CBC, 54 per cent of Canadians said their mental health had worsened during the past two years — with women faring significantly worse than men.

Sixty per cent of women aged 18 to 34 said their mental health had worsened throughout the pandemic, and that number jumped to 63 per cent for women aged 35 to 54 over the past two years.

Overall personal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Answers to the prompt: “Describe the last two years for you.”A mirrored bar chart showing two bars for each row, which represent various questions about how the pandemic has impacted people’s lives.

The survey coincides with new research from the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of British Columbia (UBC) that paints a stark picture across the country of a mental health crisis growing in the shadows of COVID-19.

Many Canadians are stressed about what could come next in the pandemic — with 64 per cent responding they were worried about the emergence of new coronavirus variants in the future, which could jeopardize plans to live with the virus as public health measures lift.

Fifty-seven per cent of respondents felt that COVID-19 will be circulating in the population for years to come, while researchers found two years of pandemic-related stress, grief and trauma could lead to long-term mental health implications for some Canadians. 

“After two years, Canadians are really feeling overwhelmed and exhausted,” said Margaret Eaton, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). 

“There is an epidemic of chronic stress that’s been going on for so long, and people are feeling so much uncertainty, that we’re concerned now that it will take much time for them to get over this experience of the pandemic.” 

The situation is similarly dire from a global perspective, with new research from the World Health Organization finding that the first year of the pandemic increased worldwide levels of anxiety and depression by an astonishing 25 per cent.

“The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”

‘System has long been broken’

Canada’s mental health-care system has operated for decades as a partially privatized, fragmented system of hospitals, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and community groups paid for either through donations, government funding or directly out of pocket. 

“We live in this patchwork quilt system of mental health where some people, if you have a good employer with a benefits plan, then you might get some psychotherapy,” Eaton said. 

“But a lot of people have suffered through the pandemic and haven’t found any support …. Many are finding that they have to get on a wait-list in order to see a psychotherapist or get into a counselling program and that has been very hard on Canadians.” 

2 years into the pandemic, Canada’s mental-health system is at a crisis point
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