COVID-19 and its Impact on Our Mental Health

The topic of mental health continues to make headlines. Whether it is people who are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or it is professional athletes feeling the intense pressure to succeed, mental health is being talked about.

Dr. James Bolton is a psychiatrist, professor, researcher and the Director of the Crisis Response Centre at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. This Centre is unique in that it only treats mental health patients in crisis. The Centre helped more than 20,000 patients in 2020 alone.

Though a chronic issue, Dr. Bolton says mental health is still a little behind the scenes. And, for that reason, he says people struggle with knowing how to recognize it and deal with it. He notes when you hear that someone is depressed, your reaction is a curiosity of what that looks like, how long it will take for them to get better and the unknown of what to ask them.

“I never get frustrated, to me it’s always a challenge,” shares Dr. Bolton. “A big part of what we do too is we actually work with families and helping educate them and bring them up to speed, so they understand what’s going on with their loved ones.”

Dr. Bolton says there is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on mental health. And, he says we are still just in the beginning stages and do not know it’s true impact. Dr. Bolton says its impact is being felt by pregnant women or mothers with newborns in a very particular way and it is impacting people whose social roles have been disrupted such as being forced to work from home. Then there are the children being impacted, whether that is disruptions to school or athletics. There is also the elderly, many of whom are now isolated within personal care homes.

“It’s devastating across the board,” he says.

Dr. Bolton’s advice starts with having an awareness of the problem. He notes even before the pandemic, mental health was this stigmatized issue that people did not want to talk about.

“I would just say keep up that conversation, check-in with peoples’ mental health, how are you doing,” he suggests. “Spend time just focusing on that aspect around the family home or with your social network, friends, check-in with that person you might not have heard about for a while.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Bolton says one of the studies he is currently working on examines what it is like for individuals and their families to go through the dying process during a pandemic.

“What’s really been neglected during the pandemic is the process of dying,” he says.

Dr. Bolton says people are dying in isolation because they are in hospitals or personal care homes, unable to be visited by loved ones. He notes they are looking to do patient interviews and interviews with families to find out what it is like to go through the dying process and how to improve the mental health side of dying during a pandemic.

Re-printed with permission from Steinbach on Line. Written by Shannon Dyck