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SPHERU brings together mental health experts to assess pandemic impacts

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: July 20, 2021 9:00 a.m.

SPHERU researchers (L to R) Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Tom McIntosh and Dr. Nuelle Novik, were the authors of the Mental Health and COVID-19 in Saskatchewan Adults – Report from a World Café Event. The other SPHERU authors included Alanna DeCorby, Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine and Natalie Kallio.
SPHERU researchers (L to R) Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Tom McIntosh and Dr. Nuelle Novik, were the authors of the Mental Health and COVID-19 in Saskatchewan Adults – Report from a World Café Event. The other SPHERU authors included Alanna DeCorby, Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine and Natalie Kallio. Photo: U of R Photography

By May 2021, millions of people from around the world had already endured some 15 months of living with COVID-19. Like elsewhere, in Saskatchewan the effects of the pandemic were felt by everyone, everywhere. Friends, family and colleagues talked of amplified levels of anxiety, stress and depression. Some individuals upped their alcohol and drug use to cope with the pressures of isolation. But to what extent did COVID-19 play havoc on Saskatchewan residents’ mental well-being during the pandemic? 

With the support of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF), the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) – which operates at both U of R and U of S – was able to “piggyback” Saskatchewan-specific samples on some of the national surveys Pollara Strategic Insights was conducting for Mental Health Research Canada. 

The first two of these surveys were conducted in August 2020 and February 2021 and included 576 and 577 Saskatchewan adults respectively. Not surprisingly, the results of the surveys indicated upward trends of anxiety and depression. In fact, the survey concluded that one in four Canadians were diagnosed with anxiety or depression during the pandemic. Social isolation was the leading factor in poor mental health in Canadians.  

Upon the release of the second wave of data, SPHERU assembled a group of Saskatchewan mental health care professionals for a virtual world café-style event. World cafés are discussion and knowledge sharing events held in an informal setting much like a café. SPHERU’s world café was held virtually in May. 

The Mental Health and COVID-19 in Saskatchewan Adults – Report from a World Café Event was released by SPHERU on July 14. 

“We thought it would be important to gather a group of people from the mental health sector to have a series of discussions around the data,” says Tom McIntosh, a professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and SPHERU’s co-director. “The point was to have the attendees look at the data and either confirm it or refute it based on their on-the-ground experiences. Given our experience with COVID-19 we asked ourselves when it comes to mental health supports what needs to change, what actually worked well and what were the real problems that we encountered that need to change.” 

McIntosh says that the discussions lead to some consistent themes. First, he says the group concluded that the system was clearly unprepared for nature and duration of the pandemic. Another theme that emerged was clear demonstration that the inequalities that existed in mental health support before the pandemic worsened during it. Another discussion point was real difficulty people had getting accurate information about what services were available, where they were available and how they could access them. There was also a lot of misinformation about the pandemic itself, all of which had potential mental health impacts, says McIntosh. 

Not all of what is in the report is gloomy, however. 

“If there was a silver lining to this it’s that it really heightened the awareness of mental health issues,” says McIntosh. “There was a tendency at certain points during the conversation to refer to it as a mental health crisis. For the people on the ground there has been a mental health crisis for a very long time. The pandemic made things worse, it didn’t create the situation ­— it exacerbated the situation.  For those living on the margins it made it worse.” 

Founded in 2000, SPHERU’s mandate is to engage in interdisciplinary, community-based population health intervention research aimed at reducing health inequities across various populations in the province. 

To read the report click here.  

For more information on mental health and COVID-19 click here.

 

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