BY ELIZABETH NOLAN
Recognition of mental health as a serious issue in need of more resources has become prominent in public discourse over the past several years, and studies show COVID-19 has increased anxiety and depression.
Provincial and federal government agencies have been responding with advice and new online resources and by spreading awareness. For this year’s Mental Health Week, which ran last week from May 3 to 9, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) introduced the campaign “Get real about how you feel. Name it. Don’t numb it.”
“Now more than ever, we need to be proactive in maintaining and supporting our mental health,” a statement from the agency explained. “During these challenging times, many of us may be struggling with difficult feelings like fear, loneliness, anger and grief. This year’s Mental Health Week theme tells us that focusing on intense emotions doesn’t make them worse. In fact, one of the best ways to quiet our emotions is to give them a voice.”
According to PHAC, naming emotions precisely can help people feel calmer and help others understand what they’re going through, which can improve relationships.
“When we slow down and give ourselves time to figure how we’re really feeling, it can help us feel better and communicate better with those around us,” PHAC states.
The agency notes that intense feelings can be overwhelming, particularly when people don’t have access to supports and coping tools. This can have negative impacts on mental health and increased use of substances, like alcohol and drugs.
“If your emotions feel overwhelming, are long-lasting or are starting to interfere with your daily life, it’s important to seek support.”
The Government of Canada’s Wellness Together Canada portal is one place where people of all ages can access free mental health and substance use supports 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are a broad range of resources available, from information and practical tools to help people feel better, to self-guided programs and peer-to-peer support to confidential sessions with social workers, psychologists and other professionals. Supports are provided online as well as by phone and text for those without internet access.
Learn more about Wellness Together Canada by visiting wellnesstogether.ca, or simply text the word WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. Frontline workers should text the word FRONTLINE to 741741.
Also last week, the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions introduced a new app designed to give youth faster and easier access to mental health and substance use services and support. The Foundry BC app allows youth and their caregivers to access a virtual counselling appointment, find peer support or join a youth group or caregiver group. These services are accessible through virtual drop-in or by scheduling an appointment. The program also includes a library of tools and resources.
See foundrybc.ca for more information on how to download the app or create an account to access services.
Tips for managing anxiety due to COVID-19
The Canadian Mental Health Association – British Columbia Division says anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and potential danger, but having too much anxiety can itself be harmful.
CMHA-BC offers the following tips for decreasing pandemic-related anxiety:
• Take action to protect yourself and others in the community by following public health orders and advice;
• Take care of yourself: eat as well as possible, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and make time for hobbies;
• Stay connected with family and friends by phone, text or video call even if it’s not possible to see each other in person;
• Help others if you can with chores they may have difficulty accomplishing and checking in regularly;
• Cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media and the news;
• Explore self-management strategies like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, art or exercise to manage anxious thoughts;
• Have a plan for and have supplies ready in the event that self-isolation is required. B.C. residents should keep two weeks of food, household products, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications on hand in case quarantine becomes necessary;
• Seek extra help or support when you need it. Signs you might benefit from extra help and support include being unable to think about anything other than coronavirus or the COVID-19 illness; finding anxiety interferes in your daily life such as going to work or being in public spaces even when the risk is very low; self-isolation when it isn’t necessary; feeling hopeless or angry about the situation; having a hard time eating or sleeping well; and/or experiencing physical symptoms like frequent headaches or an upset stomach.
People needing help can learn more and find resources at www.heretohelp.bc.ca. Family doctors’ offices may also offer tele-health or e-health services. Those who need more information about local services or just need someone supportive to talk to can call the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code) at any time.
More information about mental health and anxiety support during COVID-19 can be found online at: