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‘Echo pandemic’ of mental health must be addressed

Ada Slivinski: In order to bend the infection rate down, people are asked to stay alone, and isolate. But to avoid one danger, they risk walking right into another.
A high-risk activity, prescribed to avoid another high-risk activity.

Asked to stay home, isolate, and give up many of the pleasures of what used to be normal life – plus mass job loss and economic uncertainty – it’s understandable that mental health is suffering. But for those who were already at risk before the pandemic hit, on fragile ground so to speak, the burden is amplified.

In 2019, 2.5 per cent of Canadians reported having had suicidal thoughts in the previous year. During the first wave of the Covid pandemic this past spring, a national survey from the Canadian Mental Health Association and UBC found that 1 in 20 Canadians (6 per cent) had recently experienced thoughts or feelings of suicide as a result of the pandemic.

According to a policy brief from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, “Observations indicate that certain subgroups (i.e., Indigenous people, racialized groups, individuals who identify as 2SLGBTQ+, people with a disability, and/or people with mental health problems) are two to four times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts or tried to harm themselves since the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Two to four times as likely.

Experts have referred to the mental health effects as an “echo pandemic.” And while Dr. Bonnie Henry has addressed the public health emergency that is the overdose crisis strongly and passionately, we don’t see the charts for suicides or infographics for prevention.

It’s often been wondered what difference it would make to address the overdose crisis the same way: head on, with the same “we’re all in this together” mentality we have put towards Covid, for mental health and suicide prevention

This is a personal issue for me. We have lost people close to our family this way. It strikes me that I know more people who have died from suicide than coronavirus.

As people lose work and worry about their health and their future, Canada certainly isn’t the only place at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, “During late June, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or drug use,” with 1 in 4 people between the ages of 18 and 24 saying they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days.

Last week, social media posts reminding people they are not alone and that someone is always listening circulated widely in light of rising suicide rates and World Kindness Day 2020. It’s a good start. but we need to keep that conversation going and make sure that as we fight this second wave we are taking care of those who need it most.

Remember, if you need help, call 1-833-456-4566 (Canada hotline) 1-800-273-8255 (USA hotline).

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]