For Mental Health Week, the Canadian Mental Health Association promotes social connection to protect mental health in these difficult times
TORONTO, May 4, 2020 /CNW/ - Most Canadians rely on shortcuts to describe their emotional state—even during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to new data released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with Maru/Matchbox, 77 per cent of those asked "how are you?" rely on "I'm fine, thanks" to express how they're doing, despite the fact that Canadians are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days (63% negative vs. 37% positive). The data were released to mark Canada's 69th annual Mental Health Week, which runs May 4-10, 2020.
Despite a pandemic-driven growth in video-conferencing and social media usage, Canadians are feeling more isolated than ever (up eight points from 39% to 47% in less than one month) and crave real, meaningful connections. In fact, two thirds of Canadians (67%) report they would like to experience more meaningful social interactions in their daily life.
"Most Canadians want more social connection, yet they're reluctant to have the kind of honest, open conversations that build the connection they crave," says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA. "In our society, it's a cultural norm to ask people how they're doing, but not to expect, nor provide, a truthful answer. This Mental Health Week, it's time to get real about how we feel. It's clear we need each other more than ever."
Prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern. People with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour and suicide.1 And a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.2
Due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing out on family events and in-person activities and it appears they're feeling it. Almost half of Canadians are feeling isolated (47%) and anxious (45%), and only nine per cent are feeling happy. As we face social distancing measures, it's important to note that people don't need to be close to feel close.
"We have to be creative about leaning on each other via fun or different virtual means, calling friends, checking in on our neighbours and supporting community efforts to care for those who are struggling. It doesn't just feel good to connect—it's actually good for everyone's mental health," says Eaton.
Strong social networks lead to better self-esteem, coping mechanisms and a sense of well-being, and reduce depression and distress by providing emotional support, companionship and opportunities for meaningful social engagement.3 People with mental illness, older adults, people who live in rural or remote communities, and people who are unemployed, racialized or otherwise stigmatized need extra support, as they are at greater risk of missing out on these important protective factors.
"As a society, we are grieving those lost to the pandemic and the massacre in Nova Scotia and we can't gather right now or give each other hugs. Relying on others and sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and loss is hugely important right now, even if it's from afar," says Eaton. "Social connection will help us recover as a community."
The focus of this year's Mental Health Week is to promote social connection and the role it plays in good mental health. To get involved, you can:
Share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit at mentalhealthweek.ca/toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal #MentalHealthWeek and #TogetherApart
Donate to support CMHA mental health programs and services at cmha.ca/donate
Connect. If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA to find out about virtual and phone-based support services there to help you. Or, visit the Government of Canada'sWellness Together portal. If you are in crisis, please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada (1-866-277-3553 in Quebec).
Mental Health Week was introduced by CMHA in 1951 and has since become a Canadian tradition. To learn more, please visit www.mentalhealthweek.ca
About the Data CMHA partnered with Maru/Matchbox to conduct an online survey among a total of 1,507 Canadian adults on April 15, 2020. A probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- 2.5%, nineteen times out of twenty. The sample was weighted to reflect the Canadian adult population according to the most recent Census data. Additional data was taken from Maru's ongoing, near-daily FEEL, BEHAVE, THINK COVID-19 tracking study. For more information, please go to www.marureports.com/coronavirus
About the Canadian Mental Health Association Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada. Through a presence in more than 330 communities across every province and one territory, CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, support recovery and resilience, and enable all Canadians to flourish and thrive. For more information, visit www.cmha.ca