According to a recent study done by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 40% of Canadians say that they have watched their mental health deteriorate since the onset of the pandemic in March (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2020). The data shows that those numbers are much higher among those who are unemployed, have pre-existing mental health conditions, young adults, Indigenous peoples, those identified as LGBTQ2+ and those with a disability. According to the same study, 10% of Canadians have had recent thoughts or feelings of suicide, which is a statistically significant increase from 2.5% of Canadians, which were the numbers before the onset of the pandemic. Those numbers are also significantly higher among the groups listed above. In the same study, the CMHA expressed concern regarding the levels of suicidal thinking, self-harm, and unhealthy coping mechanisms, saying that they have “increased exponentially since before the pandemic and are further magnified in certain sub-groups of the population”. The study highlighted that only 11% are “accessing mental health services and supports” and that the current mental health crisis is causing more Canadians to turn to alcohol and substances to get through, and we all know the long-term health complications of severe & chronic alcohol and substance abuse.
Although the CMHA has come out and said that their study does not reflect that lockdowns are harmful to mental health, I would argue otherwise, and so have mental health experts. According to a study released by Roger S. McIntyre and Yena Lee, they argue that the significantly increased unemployment rate is associated with an increase in deaths caused by suicide (McIntyre & Lee, 2020). The study also claims that “quarantine alone is an independent contributor to adverse mental health outcomes”.
As a social worker, I find it quite odd that the CMHA would suggest that lockdowns are not detrimental to mental health when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the risk factors of suicide, such as a history of child maltreatment, alcohol and substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness, isolation, feelings of being cut off from other people, barriers to accessing mental health treatment, and “the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019), are all perpetrated by the lockdowns. The CDC also lists the protective factors for suicide, and they are (but are not limited to) family and community support, feelings of connectedness, support from mental health professionals, effective care, and “easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help-seeking”. These protective factors are precisely what the Ontario Government is criminalizing and seeking to discourage through these aggressive and non-targeted lockdowns. Therefore, I would argue that these lockdowns are unethical and are not following the science that is being released, as according to the official Ontario website, the data does not suggest that lifting the lockdowns would make a significant difference in the number of outbreaks (Government of Ontario, 2021).
Canadian Mental Health Association, “Despair and Suicidal Feelings Deepen as Pandemic Wears On,” CMHA National, December 7, 2020, https://cmha.ca/news/despair-and-suicidal-feelings-deepen-as-pandemic-wears-on.
Roger S McIntyre and Yena Lee, “Projected Increases in Suicide in Canada as a Consequence of COVID-19,” Psychiatry research (Elsevier B.V., May 19, 2020), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7236718/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Suicide Risk and Protective Factors|Suicide|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 3, 2019), https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html.
Government of Ontario, “Likely Source of Infection,” COVID, accessed February 2, 2021, https://covid 19.ontario.ca/data/likely-source-infection#obSetting.