Canadians with suicidal thoughts quadrupled during COVID-19

2020-12-05 22:31:51
Canadians with suicidal thoughts quadrupled during COVID-19

The number of Canadians having suicidal thoughts has quadrupled during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey, highlighting the devastating impact the outbreak is having on mental health.

The research by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University of British Columbia, released Thursday, is the second of what is expected to be a series of check-ins on the emotional state of Canadians.

Researchers found that 40 percent of those surveyed said that their mental health had deteriorated since the COVID-19 outbreak began, a figure that rose to 61 percent among those with a pre-existing mental-health issue.

People were more worried about the virus, more depressed and 20 percent had increased their alcohol use as a way to cope. Among parents with minor children at home, 28 percent were drinking more.

“We’re very worried that the emotional and mental-health impact is going to be deep and long-lasting,” CMHA chief executive Margaret Eaton said.

Eaton said she was most alarmed by the jump in suicidal thinking. Using 2016 data as the baseline, about 2.5 percent of Canadians acknowledged such thoughts before the pandemic. In the first survey, conducted in May, that had risen to 6 percent. By September, it was 10 percent.

“We’ve had bubbles of 10 people,” she said. “That’s one out of 10 of those people in your bubble who might have had a thought or feeling of suicide.”

The numbers were worse within at-risk groups. Among people with a disability, the rate of suicidal thinking rose from 15 percent to 24 percent, and from 16 percent to 20 percent among Indigenous people.

Suicidal thinking was also up, though less dramatically, among parents with minor children living at home. In the September survey, 13 percent of this group acknowledged thoughts of suicide, up from 9 percent in May.

The surveys included about 3,000 people drawn from an online “restricted access panel” managed by polling vendor Maru/Matchbox. The equivalent margin of error would be 1.79 percent, 19 times out of 20.

At Markham Stouffville Hospital, northeast of Toronto, psychiatrist Mark Berber says he was shocked at the number of patients with suicidal thoughts he encountered during a recent shift in the emergency department. A critic of pandemic restrictions that he thinks are worsening Canadians’ mental health, he worries the toll will get worse through the winter.

“As time goes on and people lose their jobs, lose their businesses, lose their livelihoods, that’s going to affect their home life, their family life and their hopefulness,” Dr. Berber said. “Disillusionment and hopelessness are the forebears of depression and suicide.”

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