COVID-19, isolation, lead to mental health issues

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Part I of a series

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of a series dealing with mental health issues as exacerbated by the current pandemic. The next part will focus on helpful suggestions by Manitoulin counsellors and therapists.

MANITOULIN – People who experience mental health and addictions issues are especially vulnerable to increased anxiety, a matter only made worse by the pandemic. 

The pandemic and resulting lockdown has created financial and employment uncertainty and has significantly affected our daily lives. Increased stress and feelings of loneliness and helplessness experienced by many can negatively impact mental health. Results from the April 2020 Statistics Canada 2020 Canadian Perspectives Survey Series (CPSS) suggest that Canadians’ overall mental health has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and young Canadians’ self-perceived mental health was particularly impacted based on comparisons between the 2020 CPSS and the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey.

Brad Mack, staff sergeant and operations manager with United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) Anishnaabe Police Service, is seeing that tensions are high all over the province since the beginning of the lockdown with people facing new issues related to transportation, finances and social distancing. 

“The overall feeling of uncertainty while we are in this state of pandemic plays on people’s emotions,” he said. “Just the fact that we are further distanced from our families is creating feelings of distress. We all need to just step back and take a deep breath so we are able to defuse and debrief in a healthy way. Positive thinking will carry many people a lot further as we navigate through our current state.”

UCCM Police have already been consistently using the Mnidoo Mnising Mental Wellness Crisis Response Team with much success, he said, and while the recently introduced Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team was not formed in response to COVID-19 it has also been a valuable tool for police to utilize during this crisis. 

The Manitoulin/Espanola Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT) is a joint collaboration between Health Sciences North, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service, explained Jason Turnbull, media specialist with Health Sciences North. “A mobile crisis rapid response team refers to a team where police and their respective health partners respond together to support individuals experiencing a mental health and/or addiction-related crisis where police are called to assist. Health Sciences North’s mental health and addictions program is the regional lead for MCRRTs across Northeastern Ontario.”

“MCRRTs leverage partnerships between officers and trained mental health and addictions crisis workers to de-escalate a situation and support individuals,” Mr. Turnbull continued. “The MCRRT attempts to streamline access to mental health crisis supports in emergency situations, to help ensure that the needed level of care is accessible. An MCRRT also helps to reduce the number of unnecessary referrals to the emergency department.” 

The program was created from funding received from the Northeast Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to develop an MCRRT in the Manitoulin/Espanola area for individuals aged 16 years or older who are experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis. Crisis situations can include intense feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, excessive worry or overwhelming fears, thoughts of suicide or of harming others, high anxiety, postpartum depression/psychosis, altered perception in reality, addiction issues including problem gambling, substance or alcohol abuse or misuse of prescription drugs, reaction to traumatic events, dealing with grief or a decrease in level of functioning due to mental health and/or addictions issues, Mr. Turnbull explained. The MCRRT operates Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 11 am until 7 pm and will continue to provide service post-pandemic.

Health Sciences North operates a crisis intervention outreach clinic on Manitoulin Island. The service is free for people living or visiting the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts and is open to individuals of all ages. The number to call is 705-368-0756, Monday through Friday from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm. 

Noojmowin Teg Health Centre continues to provide mental health and addictions services for Indigenous residents but are temporarily changing the way they are providing the majority of their services with only a few staff continuing to work on-site. In an online letter to clients, the centre notes several services are available by telephone or videoconferencing. For information about the mental health and addictions program or to complete an intake application, call 705-869-1564 ext. 4260 to reach a counsellor. If you are a community member or Anishinabek elder looking for support at this time and would like a social call/check-in, please email info@noojmowin-teg.ca or call (705) 368-2182. If you are having a crisis or feeling overwhelmed, please call the 24-hour crisis line at (705) 674-4760.

Tips for coping with feelings of distress or anxiety include staying active with activities you enjoy, staying connected with friends and family while maintaining physical distancing, taking breaks from COVID-19 news and topics. Other tips include healthy eating and getting plenty of sleep. You may need to talk to a family member or a friend or reach out for professional support. 

For additional assistance and a listing of mental health and addictions services available in this area, visit ConnexOntario.ca or call 1-866-531-2600.