How are we feeling? Albertans are worried, bored, stressed, lonely and angry
CMHA and UBC release data on emotional impact of the pandemic for Mental Health Week
Edmonton, AB (May 3, 2021) – The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on people in Alberta, as 80% of adults report feeling so-called negative emotions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The five most common responses across Alberta were ‘worried or anxious,’ ‘bored,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘lonely or isolated’ and ‘angry’. This is according to the third round of data from the Assessing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health national monitoring survey released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with UBC researchers to mark CMHA’s 70th annual Mental Health Week.
“While it’s discouraging to think that so many Canadians are feeling upset, difficult emotions may actually be an appropriate response to a major event like a global pandemic,” says Margaret Eaton, National CEO of CMHA. “It’s a sign of good mental health when someone can experience a full range of emotions, and recognize, understand and manage how they feel—even when it’s uncomfortable. Being able to make an emotional connection is also part of how we seek comfort and reassurance from people in our lives.”
Emotions represent our inner mental states. They arise in response to life events and experiences and can initiate changes in the body and in our behaviours. Some emotions are a positive experience, such as feeling calm, hopeful or secure and others are more challenging, such as anxiety, sadness, anger and hopelessness. Our emotional responses to significant events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, both reflect and contribute to our overall mental health status.
“The theme of Mental Health Week this year is understanding our emotions,” says CMHA Edmonton Executive Director Giri Puligandla. “We have a free, daily virtual panel series lined up for the week designed to connect with our community and increase awareness of local supports and programs available for those in need.”
“Good mental health is not about being happy all the time but having appropriate emotional and behavioural responses to stressors and life events,” says lead researcher Emily Jenkins, a professor of nursing at UBC who studies mental health and substance use. “Sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is particularly important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.”
Research shows that putting your negative emotions into words disrupts and reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that drives your responses to stress and fear. The act of naming our emotions can actually help us feel calmer and help us understand what we’re going through.
However, it is important to know when anxious feelings become a cause for concern. Feeling anxious is not the same as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but our emotions give us clues to how we’re really doing. Indeed, those experiencing the most challenging emotions related to the pandemic were also the most likely to report a decline in their mental health, as well as suicidal thoughts.
“It’s time to seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed for prolonged periods of time or have persistent feelings of worry, anger or despair,” says Anne Gadermann, co-lead researcher and professor at the School of Population and Public Health, UBC. “Or, if challenging emotions are interrupting your daily functioning, negatively impacting your relationships, your ability to work or enjoy life or causing you to rely on substances to cope. If you are having thoughts or feelings of suicide, you should seek help for your mental health.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates in our society is complex; however, suicidal thoughts and feelings in the general population remain elevated at 8%, compared to 6% in the spring of 2020 and 2.5% observed nationally in pre-pandemic 2016.
Overall, many Albertans (45%) report a decline in their mental health since the onset of the pandemic. The good news is most Albertans (80%) say they are coping at least fairly well with the stress of the pandemic, using approaches such as: walking or exercising outside (48%), connecting with family and friends virtually (46%), maintaining a healthy lifestyle (44%), keeping up to date with relevant information (34%) and doing a hobby (40%).
Albertans also report they have increased their screen time (59%), are consuming more food (36%), are doing more online shopping for things they don’t need (18%), and are using more substances like drugs and alcohol due to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic (14%).
Puligandla says, “We have to take this moment as a reckoning of our ability to manage widespread escalation of mental health challenges. We don’t want to go back to normal, we need to create a new, better normal – one where communities are equipped to respond and people have more simple, less confusing paths to get the support they need to recover.”
The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote the importance of emotions and the role that understanding them plays in good mental health. Mental Health Week is generously supported by Major Partner Shoppers Drug Mart as well as Westland Insurance, Leith Wheeler, Rogers TV, and the Not Myself Today program. To get involved, you can:
- Register for free Mental Health Week virtual sessions at edmonton.cmha.ca/mentalhealthweek
- Learn more about mental health and emotions at mentalhealthweek.ca
- Share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal, #MentalHealthWeek, and #MentalHealthWeekYEG
- Donate to support CMHA Edmonton mental health programs and services at edmonton.cmha.ca/get-involved/donate/
- If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact CMHA Edmonton. If you are in crisis, please call the 24-hour Distress Line at 780-482-4357.
About the data
The survey was dispatched by Maru/Matchbox in late January, 2021 to a representative sample of 3,034 people ages 18 and up living in Canada. It is the third round of a national monitoring survey that is also aligned with work being conducted by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. To access a complete summary of the findings, please click here.
About CMHA Edmonton
CMHA Edmonton believes in mental health for all and works towards its vision of mentally healthy people in caring communities. The organization works within the community to support people experiencing mental health concerns and their families through advocacy, education, research, services, and programming.
For media inquiries:
Senior Director Fund Development
Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region
Phone: (647) 717-8674
Communications & Development Coordinator
Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region