New research shows chronic stress taking toll on individuals, organizations

GUELPH – Far from feeling the pandemic is over, most people in Ontario are stressed about what’s next, with 64 per cent worried about new variants and 56% worried about COVID-19 circulating in the population for years to come. 

Two years of pandemic-induced stressors, including grief and trauma, are likely to lead to significant long-term mental health effects in the general population, and specifically on frontline mental health care providers caring for them. 

This is according to round four of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association National (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers, and CMHA’s Running on empty: how community mental health organizations have fared on the frontlines of COVID-19, both released on March 1. 

“We’re seeing the signs of chronic stress on the population,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA. 

“Unfortunately, community mental health organizations have drawn on shallow reserves to meet people’s mental health needs during COVID, and now they’re running on empty. It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.” 

The chronic stress of dealing with the pandemic is taking its toll, making basic decisions harder, sapping peoples’ energy and leaving them plain tired or burnt out. 

Nearly half (41%) of Ontarians are stressed or worried about coping with uncertainty. 

“We are certainly seeing these trends and themes across Waterloo and Wellington communities with approximately, 3,679 people currently waiting for ongoing mental health and addictions care,” says CMHA Waterloo Wellington CEO Helen Fishburn. 

“Within our CMHA WW services, we are seeing significant spikes in our referrals in our children’s mental health services, eating disorders program, early psychosis program, as well as crisis referrals.

“With this change of baseline of mental health need, we are responding to people in crisis, and doing our very best to connect people to available care across our community.” 

Over a third of people (39%) say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic and this spikes in vulnerable groups such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (57%), had a pre-existing mental health condition (54%), identify as LGBTQ2+ (49%), are students (47%), have a disability (44%) or are Indigenous (42%). 

Over a third (36%) of Canadians are worried about the compounding effects of climate change on top of COVID-19 and eight per cent have had recent thoughts or feelings of suicide. 

Millions of Canadians who cannot get the mental health assistance they need due to long wait lists or high costs, rely on free mental health and addictions services and supports provided by the not-for-profit sector, but these organizations are strained to breaking. 

Almost one in five (19%) Ontarians felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it because: they didn’t know how or where to get it (36%), couldn’t afford to pay (32%), couldn’t get access (23%) or because insurance didn’t cover it (17%). 

In Running on Empty, CMHA calls on the federal government to better fund, support and integrate community mental health services within the healthcare system and: establish long-term and stable federal funding for key programs, services and supports in the community mental health sector; invest in mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programs and strategies; publicly fund community-based counseling and psychotherapy; and invest in housing, income supports and food security. 

“This survey is highlighting the need for our collective mental health recovery,” says Fishburn. “Direct government investment to sustain and improve access to programs and services to ensure every Canadian who needs mental health supports can get them is important. 

“However, we must also look to the community to not only financially support mental health programs and services, but also learn what to look for and the skills to check in on their family, friends, neighbours, athletes, students, coworkers, children’s mental health.”

She added, “The comfort to open up the conversation about mental health struggles and then the ability to gain support both formally and informally is paramount and the time is now.”


CMHA Waterloo Wellington is here to help. CMHA WW offers a number of programs and services as well as crisis support through Here 24/7, 1-844-437-3247. Visit the CMHA WW website to to access free webinars to increase your mental wellness or visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal. 

If you are in crisis, CMHA WW asks that you call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada or dial 911.