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Pandemic and climate change emergencies stressing out British Columbians

17 per cent of B.C. survey respondents felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn't receive it.
Results from the fourth round of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health survey were released March 1.

Two-thirds of British Columbians are worried the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for years and climate change concerns are only fuelling fear, according to new research out of UBC.

The results of the survey, led by UBC faculty Dr. Emily Jenkins and Dr. Anne Gadermann in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), were released March 1. The study was conducted last December with a pool of 3,030 Canadians ages 18 and up. 

Researchers found the number of British Columbians holding such concerns about there being no end in sight for the pandemic sits at 64 per cent, higher than the national 57 per cent rate.

“With the heat domes and atmospheric rivers B.C. experienced in 2021, there was more awareness of climate crisis effects compounding mental health struggles alongside the pandemic," said Jenkins, an associate professor in the school of nursing. 

"All these different issues were colliding and we wanted to account for that,” Jenkins said.

In B.C., 65 per cent of people are worried about new COVID strains and 48 per cent are worried about the compounding effects of COVID-19 alongside the climate crisis.

Ongoing research has found 41 per cent of people in B.C. feel their mental health has declined since the pandemic began, four points higher than the national rate.

Those figures spike in vulnerable groups such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19 (57 per cent), had a pre-existing mental health condition (54 per cent), identify as LGBTQ2+ (49 per cent), are students (47 per cent) or have a disability (44 per cent), the research found.

“We’re seeing the signs of chronic stress on the population,” said CMHA chief executive officer Margaret Eaton in a statement. “It’s time to check the engine light on our mental health system.” 

Meanwhile, 17 per cent of B.C. survey respondents felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic but didn’t receive it. Among those, 35 per cent didn’t know how or where to get help, 41 per cent indicated they couldn’t afford to pay for it, and 37 per cent reported that access to care was limited.

“Improving Canadians’ mental health is about more than just increasing access to care,” Gadermann said. “We need to address the root causes of mental health inequities through promotion and prevention, in addition to treatment.”

“We need to ensure equitable access to treatment and services, take action on the social and structural issues that cause these inequities, and sustain investment in these efforts beyond the conclusion of the pandemic," Jenkins said. "It’s time to put in the work to address the longstanding barriers to good mental health in our society."

The March 1 results were from the fourth round of the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health survey.

Spending habits affected

The pandemic has also affected the way in which people spend and their wariness around fraudsters, Equifax Canada reported Feb. 28.

Using data gathered in advance of Fraud Prevention Month, Equifax found COVID-19 has changed how Canadians work, learn, shop and interact.

Some 70 per cent said they're screening calls more to avoid calls from fraudsters (63 per cent say they’re receiving these calls more frequently).

Equifax found 69 per cent are reviewing credit card and bank statements more closely for signs of fraud, with women, those aged 55+, and Quebecers significantly more likely to say this. 

About 53 per cent of respondents are changing online passwords more often and roughly four in 10 are checking their credit reports more. 

The survey found those aged 18-24 were less concerned about fraud, changing passwords and reviewing financial documents than other age groups.

“Regardless of age, most people want their government to do a better job educating about fraud and identity theft,” said Julie Kuzmic, Equifax Canada’s senior compliance officer for consumer advocacy. “It’s very clear that better communication is needed to warn younger generations about the dangers associated with fraud and identity theft. Criminals engaged in this type of crime can be quick to prey upon people who don’t have their defences up. 

"All generations and companies of all sizes should be doing their utmost to prevent and detect these crimes," Kuzmic said.

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