Half of Greater Victoria residents say mental health has declined: Vital Signs report

Just over half of Greater Victoria residents say their mental health has declined as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 29 per cent have experienced the loss of a job or income, according to this year’s Victoria’s Vital Signs report from the Victoria Foundation.

Foundation chief executive Sandra Richardson said the challenges of 2020 have exposed some of society’s shortcomings. “This has been a year unlike any other we’ve experienced before,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the protests and the rallies for racial justice, the immense shifts and disruptions in our daily lives — our lives and the community have been rattled to the core.”

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This year’s 15th annual report, released Thursday, combines research with responses from close to 1,800 people who took part in an online survey to provide a “snapshot” of 12 key areas of focus, she said, adding questions related to COVID-19 were included.

The report’s rating for the region’s overall quality of life, ranked as a B+ last year, dropped to a B this year. There was an even bigger drop in the rating for “getting started,” which refers to opportunities available for newcomers and young people, Richardson said.

That dropped to D+ from B- last year — the largest shift of any grade from 2019. Housing also dropped to D+ after being rated at C- in 2019, with 74 per cent of respondents rating the availability of affordable rental space at below average or poor.

“This has truly been an unprecedented year,” Richardson said. “Not a single area achieved a grade higher than a B.”

As for areas that are working well, the natural environment, climate and air quality were the top three choices, which is unchanged from last year. In terms of the most important issues facing the region, the top two from last year remain the same — cost of living and housing.

“But we see a new No. 3 this year, homelessness,” said Richardson, adding there is evidence that’s due to the social problems exposed by the pandemic.

Richardson said one general statistic she found “reflective of these times” is the rising rate of alcohol consumption.

“In June, 28 per cent of British Columbians reported drinking more because of the pandemic,” she said. “Even more telling is the rate rose to 36 per cent for families with children.”

She said the issue of tolerance comes up in the report, with 26 per cent of people saying they feel uncomfortable sometimes as a result of discrimination. “I think all of us would agree that one per cent would be too much, so this figure is something we should talk a long, hard look at,” Richardson said.

Still, she said the pandemic has brought out the best in people.

“We have seen an unprecedented outpouring of support and generosity from our community during these tough times, exemplified by the Rapid Relief Fund,” she said. “But we’ve also seen issues long present in our community rise to the surface, making them impossible to ignore any longer — from conditions for the elderly in care homes to issues of isolation for those living with disability to people experiencing homelessness to discrimination and racism still in our society. “COVID 19 has made it so no longer can we turn away.”

Richardson said that while there might be a lot to do, “the hardships of 2020 can provide the inspiration to do it.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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