“We knew it, our people on the ground were saying so. … I won’t hide the fact that the numbers were higher than we would have thought.”

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Nearly a third of Quebecers noticed an increase in tensions either as a couple or with their families since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey suggests.

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The Léger poll, conducted for the Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec and obtained by the Presse Canadienne, found that proportion jumped to 40 per cent for families with children.

“We knew it, our people on the ground were saying so,” said Ordre president Pierre-Paul Malenfant. “When we look at our personal lives we knew there were tensions, but the survey allows us to see it more clearly. And I won’t hide the fact that the numbers were higher than we would have thought.”

The poll quantifies a phenomenon that has worried many organizations and social workers over the course of the pandemic, one that ranges from a simple increase in the number of arguments between loved ones to the possibility of seeing victims of domestic violence confined with their attackers.

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Factors such as telecommuting coupled with school and daycare closures; illness affecting nearby or distant relatives, social isolation and job loss attributed to the increased tensions.

“Take for example what is referred to as the ‘sandwich generation’,” Malenfant said. “They have to look after their children but also care for their aging parents who might have health problems.”

Add to that young people deprived by the pandemic of personal contact with their friends and through activities. “Everything was disrupted over a long period of time. So, necessarily, that generates a lot of stress,” Malenfant said, describing the tensions as “normal reactions in a situation that was not normal.”

One-quarter of couples or families found themselves seeking professional help to deal with the situation, usually after coming to the conclusion they could not deal with it on their own, the survey suggests.

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Half of respondents were unable to answer when asked what kind of professional help they required. A quarter of respondents said a psychologist, while five per cent said family or couples counselling.

A total of 72 per cent of those who sought help said they were able to find it. Those with families of four or more were more numerous in seeking help when they realized they needed it. Two-person households were less likely to do the same.

Meanwhile, 38 per cent of families with children sought help, compared with 60 per cent that did not. More than 80 per cent of households without children tried to deal with issues on their own.

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The online survey polled 1,051 panel respondents between April 14-18. While no margin of error can be assigned to this type of survey, a random poll of 1,051 respondents has a margin of error of three per cent 19 times out of 20.

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People facing intimate-partner violence can contact SOS Violence Conjugale 24 hours a day at 1-800-363-9010.

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