Calls to Vernon crisis line jump 63 per cent amid COVID-19

Studies find suicidal feelings deepen in second wave of pandemic; community resources need funding

Executive director of CMHA Vernon Julia Payson says the North Okanagan has incredible community-based mental health services that can help take the pressure off acute care in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but funding is necessary. (Contributed)

Executive director of CMHA Vernon Julia Payson says the North Okanagan has incredible community-based mental health services that can help take the pressure off acute care in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but funding is necessary. (Contributed)

British Columbian’s mental health is eroding in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the national mental association’s latest study, with one in 10 Canadians experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide — a six per cent increase since spring.

Locally, Vernon’s crisis line is fielding 63 per cent more calls compared to this time last year with many callers indicating they feel anxious and depressed, according to coinciding findings by Pacific Blue Cross (PBC). In 2019, the Vernon team answered more than 8,000 calls.

“We are seeing a direct relationship between social stressors and declining mental health,” Canada Mental Health Association’s lead researcher and UBC professor Emily Jenkins said. “As the pandemic wears on and cases and related restrictions rise, a good proportion of our population is suffering.

CMHA reported 69 per cent of British Columbians said they are worried about the second wave, with 55 per cent worried they will contract the virus and about the death of a loved one or a family member. Only 22 per cent of respondents indicated they were feeling hopeful.

In the past nine months since the province declared a state of emergency, 42 per cent of British Columbians reported their mental health has deteriorated, meanwhile, a third (36 per cent) are worried about finances.

“Particularly concerning are the levels of suicidal thinking and self-harm, which have increased exponentially since before the pandemic and are further magnified in certain sub-groups of the population who were already experiencing stigma, exclusion, racism and discrimination,” said Jenkins, who studies mental health and substance abuse.

But CMHA’s study shows few British Columbians are getting the supports they need. Instead, many rely on a combination of healthy and unhealthy strategies to cope.

Nearly 13 per cent of respondents indicated substance abuse has increased as a coping mechanism. Sixteen per cent of people said they are drinking more while many have also increased their use of cannabis (six per cent) and prescription medication (three per cent).

A statement from the national health agency says the country’s mental health care system was failing to meet Canadian’s needs pre-pandemic due to long waitlists, access issues, inequity and underfunding.

“The North Okanagan has incredible community-based mental health services that take the pressure of hospitals and acute care, which have been hard hit by COVID-19,” CMHA Vernon executive director Julia Payson said. “These non-profits and programs are chronically underfunded though, and governments need to fund services in the community to ensure that people get help before it’s an emergency.”

The PBC findings, released Nov. 18, indicate the majority of British Columbians don’t know where to access mental health services. Despite the rise in mental health conditions, 62 per cent of respondents said they don’t access help due to costs, 50 per cent said they don’t know where to go and 40 per cent said there are no resources close enough to home.

The majority of British Columbians (66 per cent), although, are aware of crisis lines and the demand for those services continues to grow, as seen in Vernon in the past few months. In response, the PBC Health Foundation made a $10,000 donation to the Vernon Crisis Line last month to support volunteers to continue providing the potentially life-saving service.

The Vernon and District Branch of CMHA provides free crisis support to the area 24-7 via telephone 1-888-353-2273. The Crisis Line also offers chat support online Thursday through Sunday between 5-9 p.m. For more information visit cmhavernon.ca.

READ MORE: ‘Dealing with a lot:’ Suicide crisis calls mount during COVID-19 pandemic

READ MORE: Pandemic pushes 50% more Vernon eateries on SkipTheDishes


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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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Canadian Mental Health Association staff and volunteers are experiencing increased Crisis Line calls with COVID-related concerns. (CMHA photo)

Canadian Mental Health Association staff and volunteers are experiencing increased Crisis Line calls with COVID-related concerns. (CMHA photo)