TORONTO – Most Canadians rely on shortcuts to describe their emotional state—even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to new data released by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with Maru/Matchbox, 77 per cent of those asked “how are you?” rely on “I’m fine, thanks” to express how they’re doing, despite the fact that Canadians are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days (63% negative versus 37% positive).
The data were released to mark Canada’s 69th annual Mental Health Week, which runs May 4 to 10.
Despite a pandemic-driven growth in video-conferencing and social media usage, Canadians are feeling more isolated than ever (up eight points from 39 to 47% in less than one month) and crave real, meaningful connections.
In fact, two thirds of Canadians (67%) report they would like to experience more meaningful social interactions in their daily life.
“Most Canadians want more social connection, yet they’re reluctant to have the kind of honest, open conversations that build the connection they crave,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA.
“In our society, it’s a cultural norm to ask people how they’re doing, but not to expect, nor provide, a truthful answer. This Mental Health Week, it’s time to get real about how we feel. It’s clear we need each other more than ever.”
Prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern. People with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour and suicide.
And a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, officials state.
Due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing out on family events and in-person activities and it appears they’re feeling it.
Almost half of Canadians are feeling isolated (47%) and anxious (45%), and only nine per cent are feeling happy. As we face social distancing measures, it’s important to note that people don’t need to be close to feel close.
“We have to be creative about leaning on each other via fun or different virtual means, calling friends, checking in on our neighbours and supporting community efforts to care for those who are struggling. It doesn’t just feel good to connect—it’s actually good for everyone’s mental health,” says Eaton.
Strong social networks lead to better self-esteem, coping mechanisms and a sense of well-being, and reduce depression and distress by providing emotional support, companionship and opportunities for meaningful social engagement.
People with mental illness, older adults, people who live in rural or remote communities, and people who are unemployed, racialized or otherwise stigmatized need extra support, as they are at greater risk of missing out on these important protective factors.
“As a society, we are grieving those lost to the pandemic and the massacre in Nova Scotia and we can’t gather right now or give each other hugs. Relying on others and sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and loss is hugely important right now, even if it’s from afar,” says Eaton. “Social connection will help us recover as a community.”
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote social connection and the role it plays in good mental health. To get involved, you can:
– learn more about your mental health and how to feel close even when we can’t be at mentalhealthweek.ca/yourmentalhealth;
– share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit at mentalhealthweek.ca/toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal #MentalHealthWeek and #TogetherApart;
– donate to support CMHA mental health programs and services at cmha.ca/donate; and
– connect. If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA to find out about virtual and phone-based support services there to help you. Or, visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal.
If you are in crisis, call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada.