Stresses of COVID-19 have caused a 100% increase in mental health referrals in some cases
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen British Columbians access mental health tools in record numbers, which experts say is a sign the province will require a sustained effort to address an increase in depression and anxiety.
Jonny Morris, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division, said BounceBack — a CMHA program for mild to moderate depression and anxiety that has been completed by over 11,000 people since it launched in 2016 — has seen a one hundred per cent increase in referrals so far this year.
He also said the Interior Crisis Line Network, a crisis de-escalation and suicide prevention phone and chat service in the Interior Region, has received a 30 per cent increase in call volumes. Last year, the service fielded about 23,000 calls.
While the B.C government announced in April that it would put $5 million towards expanding mental health programs, including BounceBack, to deal with mental health during COVID-19, Morris said the province still has a long way to go.
“Pre-COVID, the mental health and addiction system in B.C. was not was not functioning optimally,” he said, in an interview. “It’s been needing significant investment for some time. We’re not even talking about a broken system, because that would imply that there is a system to be fixed.”
In a 2016 report, the province’s former auditor general Carol Bellringer said B.C. suffers from a lack of province-wide standards, a shortage of community services and inconsistent access to mental health and addiction treatment.
“We had a pre-existing public health crisis in British Columbia with the opioid epidemic, and the latest coroner’s report numbers show that has continued and needs greater resources and coordination,” added Morris.
The latest figures from the B.C. Coroners Service reporter 117 illicit drug toxicity deaths in B.C. in April, a 39 per cent increase from April 2019.
“Right now, we’re in a place where mental health needs, I think, are growing — and I stop short of saying that we’re into another catastrophe because we don’t know what’s on the horizon — but I think we do need to keep an eye on suicide prevention,” sad Morris.
An April survey by Mental Health Research Canada found a 15 per cent increase in high anxiety levels among British Columbians during the COVID-19 outbreak, while about half of Canadians told an Angus Reid Institute survey their mental health has gotten worse.
“I think there’s going to be a fallout after things settle down,” said Andree Hurl, a clinical counselor who practices in Victoria and Duncan. “I think people are going to find they’re still left with the trauma of what’s happening and the underlying fear of the pandemic — which has some people operating in survival mode.”
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