Potential explosion in mental illness could last years after pandemic: study

Estimates are based on an analysis of what transpired in the years following the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016

A new study suggests Canadians, especially women, will face a potentially explosive increase in mental illness for years after the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over.

Over the long term, the Deloitte study estimates that visits to emergency rooms for stress and anxiety-related disorders will increase one to three per cent from pre-pandemic rates.

Moreover, the study estimates that 6.3 million to 10.7 million Canadians will visit a doctor for mental health issues — a whopping 54 to 163 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels.

The consulting firm says governments should be funding mental health services, providers should be getting ready for the demand and insurance companies should look at revising coverage options.

The estimates are based on an analysis of what transpired in the years following the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016, which forced the evacuation of 88,000 people and destroyed more than 2,400 homes in Alberta.

It’s also based on an analysis of the long-term impact on Canadians of the “great recession” of 2008-09, a global economic crash that was nowhere near as deep or as long-lasting as the expected impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The country is still gripped by the pandemic-induced health crisis and the resulting economic crisis but the study warns that “a third-order crisis” is simmering.

“This is a human crisis. Our previous research on the impact of natural disasters on humans shows that once the public health and economic crises have subsided, the human crisis will endure for months, if not years,” Deloitte says.

The human crisis includes poorer educational outcomes, increased substance abuse and crime, as well as a hike in the incidence of mental illness. The study focuses strictly on mental health because there was not enough data available to analyze the other social impacts, said co-author Matt Laberge, Deloitte’s senior economic advisory manager.

“We did expect obviously some human impacts from COVID-19, especially around mental health,” Laberge said in an interview.

“But the sheer magnitude of them were pretty surprising to us.”

Laberge said the statistics from Fort McMurray suggest that the mental health impact will linger for years. Visits to mental health professionals and prescriptions for antidepressants shot up in the months following the May 2016 wildfire “and as of the most recent data of late 2018, there’s no sign of coming back to the pre-disaster normal.”

The message, Laberge said, is that once the pandemic-induced health and economic crises subside, “the third crisis of human impacts will still be with us for quite some time and people will need help.”

READ MORE: Long-term psychological impact of COVID-19 a concern for kids and parents, experts say

He noted that factors the study did not analyze — such as the disruption in education opportunities and potential increase in substance abuse — could have a lifelong impact on some Canadians.

Particularly “heartbreaking” is the impact on women, he said.

Whereas the 2008-09 recession hit the goods-producing sector hardest, resulting in mostly men being thrown out of work, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the retail and services sectors hardest, with women bearing the brunt of job losses.

The study says women — who were already disproportionately represented among low-income Canadians, especially single mothers — account for 68 per cent of the jobs lost due to the pandemic.

It notes that a Statistics Canada survey conducted in April and May found that women were more likely than men to report that their mental health was somewhat or much worse since the pandemic began in March (57 per cent versus 47 per cent). And they were more likely to report that their mental-health needs were not being met.

“Women are the epicentre of the human impact of COVID-19,” the study concludes.

The study urges governments to mobilize school and daycare networks to identify people who need mental-health support and to direct them to available resources. It also urges mental health professionals to prepare their facilities to handle an influx of patients.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusmental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Creston’s Sunset Seed Company closes for good

“It’s time for me to retire, simply put,” said Tom Heal, who became the manager of the family business in 2005

Column: One person can make a difference

“While it’s sad for many to see the Sunset Seed Company close their doors for good, it dawned on me that several were going to miss Tom and his aura more than the goods that he sold”

Nine new COVID-19 cases announced in Interior Health region

The total number of cases since the pandemic started is now at 531 for the region

Terry Tiessen to run as Libertarian candidate in Nelson-Creston

Tiessen previously ran in the 2019 federal election

Nicole Charlwood to run for Green Party

Charlwood was previously the Greens local campaign manager

Weekend sees 267 cases, 3 deaths in B.C.; Dr. Henry says events leading to COVID spread

There are currently 1,302 active cases in B.C., while 3,372 people are under public health monitoring

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Liberals seek to fast track new COVID-19 aid bill after CERB expires

Government secured NDP support for legislation by hiking amount of benefits by $100 to $500 per week

B.C. VOTES 2020: Echoes of HST in B.C. debate over sales tax

Cannabis, tobacco, luxury cars still taxed in B.C. Liberal plan

She warned her son about toxic drugs, then he was dead

Donna Bridgman’s son died at the age of 38 in Vancouver

Most Read