TORONTO — Crisis lines and mental health professionals are seeing a jump in calls as Canadians come to grips with the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly drastic measures aimed at containing the now not-so-new coronavirus.
While some level of concern is both normal and healthy, experts say the risk of over-reacting can lead to an inability to function, compulsive panic-buying, or even self-harm.
“We’re experiencing a significant increase in calls,” Neta Gear, executive director for Distress and Crisis Ontario said on Monday. “People are very anxious about what’s happening. People are feeling worried and scared.”
Increasingly, Canadians are being forced to cope with sudden disruptions more normally associated with war-time: Workers are being sent home; schools have closed; sports, entertainment and restaurant venues shut down; vacation plans shattered; and loved ones are stranded abroad.
In addition, those returning from out of country, who show symptoms or have had close contact with someone infected are being quarantined or asked to self-isolate for at least two weeks.
Dr. Peter Selby, a clinician-scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said previous pandemics such as SARS in 2003 have tended to lead to an increase in mental-health issues and self-harming. It’s critical people find supports, Selby said.
“Social isolation doesn’t mean emotional isolation,” Selby said. “Social isolation doesn’t mean lock yourself in your room and only watch TV and don’t talk to anybody.”
Selby advised limiting exposure to coronavirus-related news and especially to alarmist social media. People in isolation can get trapped watching the same news over and again, which can unnecessarily amplify fears, he said.
“Get information once in the day,” Selby said. “You need to reduce the amount of information coming in that is not necessarily productive or helpful.”
At the Kids Help Phone, which takes about 1,500 calls and texts a day, overall contacts have only begun to creep up. What has shifted dramatically is the content of the calls.
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