‘The echo pandemic of mental health’: survey finds that Nova Scotia has the highest COVID-19 Anxiety and Depression levels in Canada

HALIFAX, NS (October 1, 2020) “The echo pandemic of mental health will be one of the legacies of COVID-19” said Dr. Katie Aubrecht, assistant professor in the department of sociology at St. Francis Xavier University.

Nova Scotians are reporting Canada’s highest levels of anxiety and depression due to COVID-19, and the greatest nation-wide increase since the start of the pandemic. This is among the key findings of a new survey released today by Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC), a national organization that is committed to advancing impact-focused research in mental health. 

MHRC launched the survey “Mental Health in Crisis: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Canadians,” to capture Canadians’ perception of their level of anxiety and depression, and to identify and evaluate the factors that influence mental health. Research Nova Scotia partnered with MRHC to increase the survey sample in Nova Scotia. This additional data allowed for Nova Scotia-specific analysis and has provided an essential resource for our mental health research community. “As a research organization, understanding the specific mental health challenges facing Canadians is critical to our success in combating this element of the pandemic,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “Having detailed data on Nova Scotia supports a variety of mental health research, which informs the improved delivery of mental health services.”

The survey’s other major findings include:

  • Regionally, NS and ON residents are most likely to expect their anxiety and depression levels to be high if isolation measures continue for two more months
  • Canadian Teachers (K-12) are experiencing high levels of anxiety: The numbers of teachers with high anxiety has increase by a factor of five as compared to pre-COVID19 levels (5% vs 25%). They are also pessimistic about their levels of anxiety for the next two months. The fear of contracting the virus (44%) and social isolation (50%) is having an outsized negative effect on their mental health.
  • Despite an easing of the lockdown and a reduction in new cases of the virus between April and August, the levels of high anxiety and depression remained steady across Canada.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Canadians who indicated a high degree of anxiety or depression would be classified as having a moderate to severe level of psychological distress as indicated by Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). From among those in the severe category, men and people living alone had the highest score.
  • The activities cited by Canadians to be having the most positive impact on mental health previously are no longer effective. Interaction with family members and entertainment are now either having a neutral or a negative effect on mental health. This may indicate that the effect of positive activities is not long-lasting if the underlying cause of stress is not addressed.
  • Canadians report that prescription medication is the most common treatment for mental health: 60% of people who indicated a mood or mental disorder diagnosis use prescription medication with only a fifth of this group receiving therapy by a professional. 
  • Nearly half of all people who accessed mental health services before the pandemic are no longer accessing services (32% before, 17% after) with a significant reduction in access to family doctors and in-person one-to-one mental health services.

“While we have deep concerns about the trends we are seeing here in Nova Scotia, we believe strongly that the information being collected will help stakeholders and the research community to better understand and address this growing challenge”, says Dr. Katie Aubrecht of St. Francis Xavier University.  Dr. Aubrecht is also a member of MHRC’s Board of Directors, and Canada Research Chair Health Equity and Social Justice.

A full report of the survey is available on Research Nova Scotia’s website, www.researchns.ca/mhrc. Researchers can also request access to the data.

Available for interview

  • Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Member of MHRC’s Board of Directors, assistant professor in the department of sociology at St. Francis Xavier University, and Canada Research Chair Health Equity and Social Justice.
  • Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia

For interview requests, please contact:

Stephanie Reid
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