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Saturday, July 11, 2020

BONOKOSKI: Increased mental health challenges during pandemic

So, I’m mentally ill. No surprise, right?Happy Father’s Day, by the way.How’s that for a lazy up-lifter?What I suffer from, as it turned out years ago, is clinical depression, which is handled today by a combo of medications and regular video-conference calls with my shrink.
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Centre for Addiction and Mental Health buildings on College St. in Toronto on July 23, 2019.Veronica Henri / Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

So, I’m mentally ill. No surprise, right?

Happy Father’s Day, by the way.

How’s that for a lazy up-lifter?

What I suffer from, as it turned out years ago, is clinical depression, which is handled today by a combo of medications and regular video-conference calls with my shrink.

But I am not alone. It is again no surprise that the COVID-19 lockdown has helped create more depressed people, has more of us diving into the bottle (another part of my past, but now 14 years sober), and has prompted a host of other ailments brought on by interactions of depression.

Earlier this week, a new survey by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) indicated the pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of Canadians.

Again, no surprise.

“What’s unique about this pandemic is it affects everyone,” Samantha Wells, senior director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, told the CBC.

“It’s pervasive and everyone is being affected in some way, shape or form.”

The survey found 20% of Canadians say they have been experiencing loneliness during the pandemic. One in five also reported feeling moderate to severe levels of anxiety due to factors such as job loss and fear of contracting the virus.

This is all understandable, but unlike the pandemic, it will not end when COVID-19 becomes a part of the past.

“Canadians are experiencing a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety,” says Wells. “They may have lost their job due to the pandemic; they may be caring for children at home while also balancing work responsibilities, and they’re socially isolated right now.”

Bottom line, they’re mentally at their lowest.

How am I handling self-isolation? I’m finding it relatively easy because I’ve always been a loner type and do not really need social interaction like most people. My wife of 36 years, Karen, understands and gives me solitary space when needed.

Still, I appreciate the problems that exist with others, some of which can become quite extreme.

And good luck with that. Our mental health system is sorely lacking, despite what Bell’s annual Let’s Talk might imply.

In 2015, for example, having forgotten my anti-depression medications were changed many months earlier, I had a mental breakdown — high anxiety, suicidal thoughts, the gamut — and desperately took a cab to Ottawa’s Civic Hospital before I actually killed myself.

The triage nurse took my details and told me to take a seat in the waiting room.

That was at 2 p.m.

At midnight, I was still sitting there, shaking and scared.

It wasn’t until 1 a.m. that an on-call psychiatrist finally showed up from the Royal Hospital, the famous mental health facility nearby.

He gave me a prescription to change my anti-depression meds, then sent me on my way with my wife and daughter, even though I was still freaking out.

When I called the dedicated hotline for help days later, I was told to do some deep breathing exercises … or return to the Civic.

I was told it would take weeks for the new medication to kick in, and so I had no choice but to ride it out,

Most of us have experienced the devastation of a job loss, or have watched friends or loved ones who have gotten the pink slip and who had high anxieties and were scared stiff about financial survival.

It’s the worst, but throw in a pandemic, and its limited opportunities, and stress levels are suddenly red-lining.

It is something to watch because our mental health system is still desperately lacking.

And this is not good news for the desperate.

markbonokoski@gmail.com

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