MENTAL HEALTH SURVEY RESULTS
What older Canadians have to say about their mental health during COVID-19
COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation that has understandably affected the well-being and mental health of people all around the world. In the fall of 2020, C.A.R.P. surveyed older adults across Canada with the aim of understanding the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. There was a robust response of over 5,200.
KEY SURVEY FINDINGS THE BIG PICTURE
Individuals were asked about seeking mental health and wellness assistance during the pandemic. While only 10% had done so, strikingly, 42% of respondents said their mental health was ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ as compared to before the pandemic. In addition, when given the chance to comment on mental health, over 2,500 individuals did so, providing insights into both coping strategies and the challenges faced.
Many found the pandemic challenging but ultimately, “a bump in the road,” and shared coping strategies, including: • spending time outdoors
• eating well
• staying fit or keeping mobile (even simply dancing in ones’ chair)
• being in touch with friends and family
• finding ways to help others
• meditating or yoga
• Learning via books, online or free university courses
• using learned coping skills, e.g, “I have a long history of anxiety & depression, so I already have multiple coping strategies in place and have been making myself feel better by helping others.” Although many shared their positivity, resilience fatigue was also expressed.
STIGMA IS STILL AN ISSUE
76% of those who sought help for mental health believed this could affect how they were seen and impact their relationships. Stigma was revealed in some comments that expressed judgement about others not coping well.
THE NEED FOR MORE CONSISTENT, EFFICIENT, AND AFFORDABLE MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORTS
The survey provided insights into inadequacies in mental health supports. • Just under half of respondents who sought help from a psychiatrist felt it was difficult accessing that help. 41% could not access a psychiatrist (virtually or otherwise) for three months or more.
• While counselling was easier to access, 40% had to wait one month or more to receive support.
• While many had coverage for counselling and medication through an insurance plan or health care, the cost of counselling was considered a barrier for 40%, and cost of medication a barrier for 15%.
Over 90% believed counselling should be covered by the public health care system, and 99% believed medications should be covered by public health care and employers.
Overall, respondents highlighted the need for better and universal access to mental health assessment and treatment and a ‘psychological first aid’ protocol. One respondent wrote, “The…system is not funded sufficiently to accommodate those who need mental health services. When a person is having a mental health crisis they need IMMEDIATE attention. Indigenous communities need much greater mental health care measures…federal government [should] provide greater funding for those most in [financial] need.”
Financial insecurity as a trigger for or associated with mental health issues was reflected in many comments.
ABILITY TO GET MEDICAL CARE
Difficulty accessing medical care of all kinds during the pandemic was a key theme in the comments section. One respondent wrote, “limited access to healthcare for non-emergency, non-Covid medical matters has impacted my quality of life and mental health.”
The negative impact of isolation was a major theme in respondents’ comments, especially for those living alone.
Many felt existing issues were exacerbated by isolation. One individual wrote, “My mental health changed due to the change in my husband who has Alzheimer’s. We were managing at home before…the isolation of covid was very difficult on my husband - the pandemic sped up his decline.”
While the internet was viewed as a tool that aided connection, it was also deemed a poor substitute for face-to-face contact. Some spoke of touch deprivation. The internet also presented barriers such as skill level and connectivity (e.g., rural areas).
LONG TERM CARE
Concern was expressed about care facilities during COVID. One individual wrote, “protection from the virus has had severe detrimental effects on myself and fellow residents. We have had no family connections, no fresh air, no activities. I used to work in health care and I am saddened to see these measures being taken.”
The insights regarding well-being and mental health barriers, gaps and unmet needs of older adults during COVID-19 will be relevant when the pandemic is over. Older adults need to feel heard, engaged and valued. We still have work to do around stigma. Isolation of the elderly is a concern that needs to be addressed through adequate supports and programs. Finally, access to quality mental health supports and treatments should be a given, and not dependent upon finances, geography, or ability to self-advocate. Thank you for sharing your voice which will help inform our advocacy and a better 2021.
Please visit carp.ca/advocacy-priorities to learn more about C.A.R.P. advocacy priorities in 2021.
“LIMITED ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE FOR NON-EMERGENCY, NON-COVID MEDICAL MATTERS HAS IMPACTED MY QUALITY OF LIFE AND MENTAL HEALTH.”