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Stats Canada reports significant pandemic-related jumps in depression and anxiety

Public health officer: ‘Huge amount of work ahead of us with restoring resiliency in our communities’
Self-reported rates of anxiety and depression increased during parts of the pandemic. File photo.

Reports of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have risen since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by Statistics Canada.

The report, titled ‘Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health’ compares rates of positive screening for mental health disorders in two surveys of adult Canadians conducted in fall 2020 and spring 2021, respectively.

It shows the rate of respondents self-reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety or PTSD increased from one in five in fall 2020 to one in four in spring 2021.

While rates of PTSD held steady between these two periods, there was an increase in the reporting rate of both major depressive disorder (from 15 per cent to 19 per cent) and generalized anxiety (13 per cent to 15 per cent).

Higher levels of depression and anxiety were reported among younger age groups.

Among those aged 18 to 24 years old, 36 per cent reported positive for major depressive disorder in spring 2021, compared to 27 per cent in fall 2020.

Survey respondents aged 25 to 44 years old reported statistically significant increases in both major depressive disorder (from 18 to 23 per cent) and generalized anxiety (from 15 to 20 per cent).

Among this age category, 32 per cent reported experiencing at least one disorder in spring 2021 compared to 25 per cent in fall 2020, a significant increase.

Those aged between 45 to 64 also reported a statistically significant increase in positive screens for major depressive disorders, from 13 per cent in fall 2020 to 16 per cent in spring 2021.

There is evidence these factors were driven by issues related to the pandemic.

Among Canadians who screened positive for at least one disorder, 94 per cent reported being adversely affected by the pandemic, compared to 64 per cent who did not screen for a disorder.

Leading impacts reported by those who screened positive include feelings of loneliness or isolation (77 per cent), physical health problems (62 per cent), relationship challenges (48 per cent), loss of job or income (39 per cent), and difficulty meeting financial implications (32 per cent).

No current data is available to assess whether these trends continued into summer 2021.

Throughout the pandemic, much of British Columbia’s screening efforts have been focused on tracking COVID-19 itself, said Dr. Sandra Allison, Medical Health Officer with Island Health.

But the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) conducted the BC COVID-19 Survey on Population Experiences, Action and Knowledge (SPEAK) in May 2020, followed by a follow-up survey (SPEAK 2) in spring 2021, to learn about British Columbians’ thoughts and behaviours during the pandemic.

The results of the follow-up survey have not yet been released, preventing a time comparison like that of the Statistics Canada report.

However, SPEAK results show 46 per cent of respondents reported their mental health worsening throughout the pandemic.

Furthermore, 63 per cent reported concern for vulnerable family health and 59 per cent said they found coronavirus thought consuming.

“We know just through our survey data that we’ve got a huge amount of work ahead of us with restoring resiliency in our communities,” said Allison.

“I think that in the tail winds of the pandemic, we’re going to get more and more reports about the actual prevalence (of these disorders).”

But what information is available now shows the pandemic has been particularly hard on young people.

“It’s really challenging, especially in the younger age groups,” she said.

“When they finished high school in 2020, there was an incredible gap for them in launching their adult lives, and that lent itself to a ton of disappointments, loss of expectations, all of that stuff.”

As the pandemic wanes, there will be time to reflect on the approaches taken to save lives.

“We as a society, and as leaders in a pandemic, need to understand how much risk have we taken on by saying you need to socially isolate, need to stay at home (and) we need to keep ourselves apart from each other,” she said. “How much harm did that do?”

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