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The hidden cost of COVID

As active cases decline, Edmontonians are feeling the
after-effects in rising mental health issues

ARCH Psychological, located in downtown Edmonton, with social distancing regulations being followed in the waiting room. (Haley Grinder)

By Haley Grinder

SINCE THE EMERGENCE of COVID-19 a year ago, mental health issues among Edmontonians have skyrocketed, putting a growing burden on psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health specialists.

The pandemic has caused Canadians to endure lockdowns, layoffs and isolation. The lack of social contact is necessary from a physical health standpoint. However, ripple effects are being seen in increases of anxiety, depression, grief, addiction problems and family issues.

Although, initially, business among mental health specialists decreased, it has bounced back, says psychologist Hilda Huj, who is a managing partner of ARCH Psychological Services.

According to Mental Health Research Canada, Alberta residents are reporting a 20 per cent increase in anxiety levels – the largest increase in Canada, followed closely by Ontario, Atlantic Canada and B.C.

LeighAnne Sheldon, registered psychologist at Aboriginal Psychological Services, says business since the pandemic has been “beyond busy.”

“I can’t take on any new clients. That’s why I’m thinking of hiring.”

‘Right now, we see a high need, but also people
struggling to afford psychological services’

Meanwhile, Dr. Cory Hrushka, owner and CEO of Insight Psychological, says there has been a 27 per cent increase in business in 2020, making the Canada’s Growth 500 list of the fastest growing Canadian businesses annually.

Hrushka says he’s seeing more couples and families coming in for counselling.

“Couples are having to stay together, working at home. If they’re good, it’s great but, if there’s conflict, that can be problematic without an escape.”

He stresses that there are additional struggles for parents with young kids working from home while managing virtual schooling.

Justin Khuong, 35, says his mental health has worsened since the first lockdown in March. He works in the music industry as a performer and and teacher and, he says, his extroverted personality doesn’t thrive when stuck at home.

One way to stay fit and mentally healthy is to practise yoga. (Dylan Gillis/Unsplash)

“I actually just saw [a therapist] for the first time last week.”

It has been almost a year since ehe felt the need to see a therapist, Khuong says. The costs associated with mental health care are frightening, he adds, especially if we are to see any further lockdowns.

This increased need for mental health supports is widely felt. Mental Health Research Canada reports that 43 per cent of Canadians that have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder say they “have less access to mental health supports since the outbreak.”

The amount who feel as though the quality of available support has declined is 36 per cent. Factors for this could include wait times, exhausted mental health workers, and high costs.

But there is still hope. Canadian Red Cross recently released a Guide to Health Emergencies for Parents and Caregivers, meant to teach people how to cope with pandemic stress on their own from home. The strategies range from turning off the television to getting exercise, to sleeping well, to postponing major life decisions.

 Huj adds that there are resources in the community to which people in need can turn.

“Even when money is an issue, there are many good supports that offer pro-bono services on a regular or case-to-case basis.”

The Expert Psychologists Interagency Clinical Network (EPIC), is arranging for a petition to protest against these high costs. The network stresses that being pro-active and taking care of one’s mental health on a regular basis is key to avoiding major diagnosable issues. The petition will be tabled later this month by New Democrat MLA Heather Sweet (Edmonton-Manning). The petition asks the Alberta Government to fully fund mental-health care interventions with a psychologist, and allow psychologists to direct bill AHS for psychological services.

In the meantime, Huj says the main thing is to stay optimistic.

“We can try to keep hope and not to be afraid to reach out to their loved ones or professional supports, even through online means.”

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