Potential explosion in mental illness could last years after pandemic: study

Potential explosion in mental illness could last years after pandemic: study

Estimates are based on an analysis of what transpired in the years following the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016

A new study suggests Canadians, especially women, will face a potentially explosive increase in mental illness for years after the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over.

Over the long term, the Deloitte study estimates that visits to emergency rooms for stress and anxiety-related disorders will increase one to three per cent from pre-pandemic rates.

Moreover, the study estimates that 6.3 million to 10.7 million Canadians will visit a doctor for mental health issues — a whopping 54 to 163 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels.

The consulting firm says governments should be funding mental health services, providers should be getting ready for the demand and insurance companies should look at revising coverage options.

The estimates are based on an analysis of what transpired in the years following the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016, which forced the evacuation of 88,000 people and destroyed more than 2,400 homes in Alberta.

It’s also based on an analysis of the long-term impact on Canadians of the “great recession” of 2008-09, a global economic crash that was nowhere near as deep or as long-lasting as the expected impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The country is still gripped by the pandemic-induced health crisis and the resulting economic crisis but the study warns that “a third-order crisis” is simmering.

“This is a human crisis. Our previous research on the impact of natural disasters on humans shows that once the public health and economic crises have subsided, the human crisis will endure for months, if not years,” Deloitte says.

The human crisis includes poorer educational outcomes, increased substance abuse and crime, as well as a hike in the incidence of mental illness. The study focuses strictly on mental health because there was not enough data available to analyze the other social impacts, said co-author Matt Laberge, Deloitte’s senior economic advisory manager.

“We did expect obviously some human impacts from COVID-19, especially around mental health,” Laberge said in an interview.

“But the sheer magnitude of them were pretty surprising to us.”

Laberge said the statistics from Fort McMurray suggest that the mental health impact will linger for years. Visits to mental health professionals and prescriptions for antidepressants shot up in the months following the May 2016 wildfire “and as of the most recent data of late 2018, there’s no sign of coming back to the pre-disaster normal.”

The message, Laberge said, is that once the pandemic-induced health and economic crises subside, “the third crisis of human impacts will still be with us for quite some time and people will need help.”

READ MORE: Long-term psychological impact of COVID-19 a concern for kids and parents, experts say

He noted that factors the study did not analyze — such as the disruption in education opportunities and potential increase in substance abuse — could have a lifelong impact on some Canadians.

Particularly “heartbreaking” is the impact on women, he said.

Whereas the 2008-09 recession hit the goods-producing sector hardest, resulting in mostly men being thrown out of work, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the retail and services sectors hardest, with women bearing the brunt of job losses.

The study says women — who were already disproportionately represented among low-income Canadians, especially single mothers — account for 68 per cent of the jobs lost due to the pandemic.

It notes that a Statistics Canada survey conducted in April and May found that women were more likely than men to report that their mental health was somewhat or much worse since the pandemic began in March (57 per cent versus 47 per cent). And they were more likely to report that their mental-health needs were not being met.

“Women are the epicentre of the human impact of COVID-19,” the study concludes.

The study urges governments to mobilize school and daycare networks to identify people who need mental-health support and to direct them to available resources. It also urges mental health professionals to prepare their facilities to handle an influx of patients.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusmental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Helping Hands of Terrace sorting facility was completed in November 2020. Phase two added a second shipping container and a roof, meaning that multiple people can sort recyclables at one time. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
VIDEO: Inside Helping Hands of Terrace’s sorting facility

Phase two of the facility was completed late last year

Kitselas Administration office. (Kitselas First Nation website photo)
Kitselas First Nation candidates announced for June 10 election

Over three dozen candidates vying for position of one chief councillor and six council members

“Skeena,” by John Hudson and Paul Hanslow is one of five fonts in the running to become the default for Microsoft systems and Office programs. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Font named after Skeena River could become the next Microsoft default

One of the five new fonts will replace Calibri, which has been Microsoft’s default since 2007

The road to Telegraph Creek (Hwy 51) was closed April 15 due to a washout. On May 4, the road was opened to light-duty passenger vehicles during specific times. (BC Transportation and Infrastructure/Facebook)
Telegraph Creek Road opens for light-duty vehicles

Road has been closed since April 15 due to a washout

Crew works on the Howe Creek Trail broad walk near the northeast corner of Christy Park.
Howe Creek Trail repair work under progress

Residents asked to avoid using trail near the northeast corner of Christy Park

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

A picture of Shirley Ann Soosay was rendered from a postmortem photographer and circulated on social media. (DDP graphic)
B.C. genealogist key to naming murder victim in decades-old California cold case

In July 1980, Shirley Ann Soosay was raped and stabbed to death

Mary Kitagawa was born on Salt Spring Island and was seven years old when she was interned along with 22,000 B.C. residents in 1942. (B.C. government video)
B.C. funds health services for survivors of Japanese internment

Seniors describe legacy of World War II displacement

Most Read