The good news is that there is a lot of help available and it is easy to access it virtually.

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Mental health problems caused by viral outbreaks, such as COVID-19, have long been called parallel epidemics, and research during the current crisis seems to confirm this.

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“When we talk about the impact of COVID on mental health, the impact is due to multiple factors,” he said. Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, chief of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, as well as regional chief and program medical director for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and Providence Health.

One factor, of course, is having COVID itself.

“But also all the other things that came with COVID: closures, social isolation, destruction of the social rhythm,” Yatham said. “But also a financial impact, because many people lost their jobs.”

Yatham, co-author of a Canadian Journal of Psychiatry editorial on the mental health of the communities during COVID, I was speaking before Sunday World mental health day: Time to make quality mental health care a reality for all, says WHO.

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On October 8, there were 743 new COVID cases in BC for a total of 192,491 cases in the province. There have been five new deaths, for a total of 2,001 since the start of the pandemic. Eighty-eight point six percent of eligible individuals age 12 and older have received their first dose of the vaccine and 82.2 percent have received their second dose.

Because COVID is relatively new, doctors and scientists around the world have been eager for new information to try to understand its impact on various levels from a mental health perspective, Yatham said. He and his team have studied surveys on physical and mental effects, feelings of anxiety, depression, increased alcohol and drug use.

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“Many surveys have indicated that COVID has had a huge impact on the mental health of populations, with numbers varying based on where the survey was conducted, when the survey was conducted, who the target population was, that sort of thing.” , said. said. “For example, a survey conducted in the US indicated that 40 percent of the population had symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress-related (problems). Before the pandemic, that number would have been more than 10 percent.

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“So there is a huge increase in terms of the number of people, the proportion of people who report symptoms of those things. But what those surveys don’t tell us is, are they feeling anxious and depressed, or do they really have a psychiatric disorder? “

All of us feel anxious, upset, sad, irritable or angry at times, for various reasons, Yatham said. That is not to say it indicates a psychiatric disorder, he said.

“The question is, how many (people who report symptoms) actually have the disorders, that’s the kind of research that’s starting to emerge.”

Yatham and a colleague, Dr. Daniel Vigo, recently obtained a grant of the Canadian Institute of Health Research to identify groups of patients who are at increased risk of developing adverse mental health outcomes due to COVID, with a view to facilitating access to effective treatments. One thing they observed was comparing during the second wave of the virus in BC people hospitalized for COVID with those who were in the hospital due to the flu, and the same two groups that did not require hospitalization.

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The results were a bit surprising.

About as many flu patients hospitalized during the previous eight years sought mental health counseling within three months of leaving the hospital as did those hospitalized with COVID (about 30 percent in each case), but for those who were not hospitalized, twice as many with COVID sought mental health help as did flu victims (about 13 percent versus six or seven percent).

“This is still very preliminary data, so we still need to do more analysis to fully understand it,” Yatham said. “But clearly, in people with mild to moderate COVID, the incidence of psychiatric conditions appears to be much higher.”

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Another study that Yatham was a part of found that worsening depression and bipolar disorder correlated with degree of blockage – the more severe it was, the more people’s mental health suffered.

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“With COVID, we all shut down our social life, in some way. You are sitting at home watching television, without social contacts, your biological and social rhythms are completely altered, all of which are important for good mental health, “he said.

Research continues and more will be discovered in the future, but the good news is that help has never been easier to find.

Before the pandemic, almost all counseling sessions would have been in person, Yatham said, but counseling by phone and video conferencing has skyrocketed: Up to 95 percent of psychiatric care provided in the VCH region was conducted virtually in a moment during COVID-19.

Additionally, VCH-supported mental health crisis lines are receiving four times the volume of calls they received before the pandemic.

“Now there are many opportunities,” Yatham said. “Don’t hesitate to seek help.”

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