People wait in line in an alleyway at a COVID assessment centre at St. Michael's Hospital, in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. A new survey suggests Canadians continue to experience mental health difficulties due to the pandemic, with one in four saying their stress level is higher than during the first COVID-19 wave. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

COVID-19 worries continue for Albertans

The majority of Albertans are worried COVID-19 will not go away according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

According to Round 4 of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers, 65 per cent of Albertans are worried about new variants and 58 per cent are worried about COVID-19 circulating in the population for years to come.

“We’re seeing the signs of chronic stress on the population,” says Margaret Eaton, National CEO of CMHA. “Unfortunately, community mental health organizations have drawn on shallow reserves to meet people’s mental health needs during COVID, and now they’re running on empty. It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.”

According to the study, chronic stress of dealing with the pandemic is taking its toll, making basic decisions harder, sapping our energy and leaving people plain tired or burnt out. Nearly 45 per cent of Albertans are stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty.

“We’re seeing big differences—or inequities—in how different groups of people are affected by the pandemic. This is dividing our society into haves and have-nots when it comes to mental health and illness,” added lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use.

“The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the longstanding service gaps and systemic barriers in our systems.”

Almost half of Albertans say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic and this spikes in vulnerable groups across Canada such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (57 per cent), had a pre-existing mental health condition (54 per cent), identify as LGBTQ2+ (49 per cent), are students (47 per cent), have a disability (44 per cent) or are Indigenous (42 per cent). Almost half (40 per cent) of Albertans are worried about the compounding effects of climate change on top of COVID-19 and 11 per cent have had recent thoughts or feelings of suicide.

The study also noted that almost one in four Albertans felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it because: they didn’t know how or where to get it (47 per cent), couldn’t afford to pay (54 per cent), couldn’t get access (26 per cent) or because insurance didn’t cover it (26 per cent).

“Improving Canadians’ mental health is about more than just increasing access to care,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “We need to address the root causes of mental health inequities through promotion and prevention, in addition to treatment.”