The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Manitobans
WINNIPEG -- Back in November, when Code Red rules effectively put all of Manitoba under a second COVID-19 lockdown, Grant Cline found himself cut off from his social network.
Unlike the first lockdown in spring 2020, the cold winter weather made this situation isolating. Going for socially-distanced walks with friends or taking photos (Cline is an amateur photographer) weren’t really on the table.
Cline, who is retired and lives with his wife, couldn’t see anyone in-person or do much outside of the house.
“You’re always watching the daily updates,” said Cline, thinking back to late last year. “A lot of the stuff that was going in the states, too.”
“We were just bombarded with news and none of it was good.”
Cline and his wife have five kids, some of whom live in Winnipeg.
But strict rules on household gatherings meant Cline was unable to experience simple joys, like seeing his young granddaughter.
“She just turned two and I haven’t seen her in over a year,” said Cline. “She wouldn’t even know who we were. We’ll never get that toddler, playing around with her, stuff back again.”
The situation wore down Cline’s mental health.
He is far from alone.
Here in Manitoba, and across Canada, COVID-19’s second wave and accompanying lockdowns took a toll on people’s mental well-being.
“With the prolonged nature of the pandemic, we saw early on an impact on mental health,” said Marion Cooper, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association for Winnipeg and Manitoba. “As things have continued we see that impacting people’s psychological, emotional and social well-being.”
“This reality we see in terms of people’s daily lives is also playing out in terms of the research,” she said.
Before the pandemic, about one-in-five Canadians experienced some sort of mental health issue.
That is now up to one-in-four, according to recent polling done by Mental Health Research Canada, with self-reported levels of anxiety and depression now at their highest.
Social isolation is now the lead mental health stressor, according to the poll, among many others like job uncertainty or worrying about catching the COVID-19 virus.
In tandem, these mental stressors can wear down a person’s cognitive resiliency.
“We’re a little bit like a bank or a fuel tank,” said psychologist Dr. Jo An Unger, president of the Manitoba Psychology Society. “Having chronic levels of stress really can deplete our resources and have negative impacts on our mental health.”
Unger adds that some mental stressors, like chronic loneliness or social isolation, can even have a physical effect.
“Diminished immunity, increased blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and even earlier death” are outcomes for people who are chronically alone, said Unger.
Connecting with others, even virtually, and trying to be meaningfully productive are ways to stay mentally healthy, says Unger.
That’s exactly what Cline did in December.
Cline launched a podcast, “Living in Lockdown: Coping in a Pandemic,” which, as the name suggests, is all about how people are dealing with the new reality ushered in by COVID-19.
He interviews people from around the world impacted by COVID-19, from students to doctors to business owners. Cline says it has helped him find meaningful connections with people who used to be complete strangers.
“It’s been very eye-opening and almost therapeutic on both sides,” said Cline. “For me, I get to meet these people and I feel like I’ve actually made friends with these people.”