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Pandemic becoming endless grind on our mental health

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Troy Shantz
A pandemic with no end in sight is wreaking havoc on our mental health, local officials say.

“People don’t know when it’s going to end. After (the first wave) people were hopeful that we were rounding the corner,” said Paula Reaume-Zimmer, a mental health and addiction expert at Bluewater Health.

“Now that sense of hope is diminished, and what they thought they were going to postpone for a little while doesn’t have an end date.”

As Ontario set consecutive daily records for new COVID-19 infections last week, a new Leger poll found almost one in four Canadians feel more stressed now than during the lockdowns of March and April.

The chief factors are fear over how bad the pandemic will become, and the social isolation felt from not seeing friends and family.

The Sarnia hospital’s 27-bed mental health inpatient ward has been expanded by five beds, and demand for addiction withdrawal service is so great people have been turned away, Reaume-Zimmer said.

“We were in a crisis before COVID, and that didn’t go away. A lot of the isolation and a lack of the healthy means of coping has directed individuals into unhealthy substitutes, for sure.”

Those seeking help include more children and adolescents, and that trend will likely continue, she said.

With no recreational sports available and social gatherings restrictions, young people are denied the normal outlets for friendship and social growth, Reaume-Zimmer added.

Social workers at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board are seeing more students with “heightened fears,” with some too afraid to go to school, said Christine Preece, the board’s mental health and well-being lead.

Health guidelines prohibiting physical touching “has its impact on our overall well being,” she said.

“We all need hugs and touch and social connection, and that’s hard right now.”

On the other hand, virtual learning at home has made it easier for those kids anxious and stressed in a regular school environment, she noted.

Adjusting to the new normal has tested students, and that’s not always a bad thing, she said.

“We all need to have struggles in order to come out the other end with more resilience.”

The board has six social workers and 11 child and youth workers offering face-to-face and online counselling, she said. They encourage students to reach out for help, and they’re teaching them positive strategies they can apply themselves.

“It’s OK not to feel OK during this time,” she said.

Reaume-Zimmer said it’s important for people to find ways to stay in touch.

“Making sure we’re asking how one another is doing, that’s a key piece of staying connected,” she said.

“It’s a simple gesture but an important one.”

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