For many months, Canadians have hoped for signs that the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing, both at home and abroad. While global recovery remains inconsistent, Canada has seen encouraging vaccination rates, decreasing national case numbers and the easing of social restrictions. It seems like the tentative beginning of what we have all been waiting for – the light at the end of a very long tunnel finally coming into view.
Many hope the waning pandemic will launch life into a new, more exuberant phase, one in which we’ll finally be able to go to parties, travel and shake off the various struggles and funks we’ve grappled with since this crisis began. It certainly seems like some of us just can’t wait to have fun: Travel agencies are seeing a jump in vacation bookings for the fall, music promoter Live Nation reported U.S. music festival tickets are selling out in record time and public-health experts are entreating everyone to get an STI test before having a wild, post-vax summer of hooking up.
Yet, there will be those who want to collapse in exhaustion rather than jump for joy.
“Some of the people who are anxious or depressed right now will bounce back after this is over,” says Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia. However, “there will be people who develop chronic mental-health problems” caused or exacerbated by the pandemic, he says – likely many. Already, a March, 2021 report by the American Psychological Association found nearly half of respondents felt “uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction” and uncomfortable with “going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic.”
One postpandemic mental-health outcome Dr. Taylor anticipates is a surge of “prolonged grieving disorder,” a condition that affects about 10 per cent of bereaved people, that only becomes apparent months after the death of a loved one and that can last indefinitely. As of June, as many as 13,000 Canadians could be at risk of developing the disorder.
“If you’re one of those people, the pandemic has never ended for you,” Taylor says. “In a sense, what happened in 2020 and 2021 is going to pale in comparison to what happens to you in the rest of your life unless you get treatment,” he says. “And then you ask yourself, how many mental health practitioners out there are trained and qualified in the treatment of prolonged grief disorder? Not many.”
Dr. Alain Brunet studies the effects of traumatic stress on mental health at the McGill University-affiliated Douglas Research Centre. Last year, he and his team began researching the pandemic’s impact on mental health.
Brunet found a “significant minority” of people – such as front-line health care workers or those who witnessed death or had a near-death experience – have developed or are at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder due to their experiences during the pandemic. But “tenfold more,” he says, will grapple with an “adjustment disorder,” a kind of lesser-understood mental-health issue that can feature symptoms like intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours and changes in mood and cognition.
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