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Data points to pandemic’s long-term emotional impact

Post-pandemic mental health needs to be continuously monitored in the workplace: advocate
Many British Columbians show “signs of chronic stress on the population.”

Despite the loosening of pandemic restrictions around B.C., the battle for mental health in the workplace is far from over. Instead, as one leading advocate said, it may only be beginning.

That’s the findings of the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which recently completed its 18th annual Bottom Line Conference on workplace mental health.

“What we see in Canada is far from the feeling that the pandemic is over,” CMHA-BC CEO Jonny Morris said prior to the event. “Most people are stressed about what’s next.”

In March, the organization released the results of its latest survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health across Canada. The survey, which was conducted with University of British Columbia researchers, included 3,030 respondents from late 2021 and showed 64 per cent of B.C. respondents fear the novel coronavirus will continue “circulating in the population for years to come.”

The results also showed that as many as 41 per cent of British Columbians are “stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty,” 65 per cent are concerned about the spread of new COVID variants and as many as 31 per cent have “financial concerns” such as going into debt, the ability to pay bills and long-term career prospects.

In a statement, CMHA national CEO Margaret Eaton said the data shows “signs of chronic stress on the population.”

“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,” Eaton said. “It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.”

Morris noted that the reopening has spurred some “hope and optimism” among the populace this spring, but the residual fear stemming from the pandemic remains and could continue to be pervasive in workplaces as people return to work.

CMHA-BC said that one of the Bottom Line Conference’s main messages is to not only discuss research data and teach about tools/strategies for coping with the new normal, but also to inspire others suffering from mental stresses in the new environment around “shared goals of mental wellness.”

Morris added that more work needs to be done on that front.

The CMHA is therefore planning events this month that will focus on the mental health of people in the tech sector and entrepreneurial spaces. The group also recently released a course focused on people with anxiety or other mental challenges while working in the hospitality and food and beverage industry.

One key area, Morris added, is data. The CMHA’s survey is among a number of polls that have tracked Canadians’ mental health during the pandemic, but the need for such data could increase in the coming months during a time when the psychological impact of the situation is unclear.

“It comes back to an old cliché: ‘What gets measured gets managed,’” he said. “And for so long, because of the inherent invisibility of so much that’s going on and the stigma surrounding mental health when it comes to speaking about personal experiences, having the data is critical.”