When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, every action counts

This year, with COVID-19 affecting every aspect of our lives, Canadians are feeling the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. Now more than ever, mental health matters and every action counts.

Small actions from recognizing stressors, to being there for a loved one can help support mental health and strengthen our communities during this difficult time. Below you will find helpful information and tips developed by the Canadian Psychological Association about how you can help yourself, your friends, and your family cope with stress and look after their mental health. For more information and resources related to COVID-19 and mental health, consult their “Psychology Works” fact sheets.

Ways you can help

Recognizing signs of stress

Stressors associated with a pandemic will affect people differently. We can be affected psychologically (e.g., feeling worried), as well as physically (e.g., sleeping poorly). Stressors that are beyond our personal control are especially difficult to cope with. Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Remember that not everyone reacts to the same event in the same way and not everyone shows their distress in the same way.

Taking care of yourself

Taking care of yourself is important to helping you cope with stress. Simple ways to take care of yourself include:

  • Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting, so take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. When you do listen, choose credible sources of information.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling and let those close to you, especially children, share their concerns and accept support.
  • Maintain as normal a routine as possible, including engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Focus your energies on what you can control rather than worrying about what you can’t. You can come up with a new hobby, talk to a friend or exercise but you cannot control when a vaccine will become available or when we will go back to business as usual.

Taking care of others

It likely that more people will see impacts on their mental health and well being than will suffer serious physical affects of COVID-19. People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

  • Older people and people with chronic diseases who are at higher risk for COVID-19
  • Children and teens
  • Frontline workers
  • People who have mental health conditions including problems with substance use
  • People who tend to worry – particularly about their health, or who have experienced a previous or recent traumatic event
  • People who live alone or have few social supports

Children and teens may respond more strongly to the stress of the pandemic. There are many things you can do to support your child or teen:

  • Give them the opportunity to talk about their concerns about the outbreak, tell them the truth, reassure them, and let them know they can count on you.
  • Balance giving information with not giving so much it causes more distress. Check in with children to confirm what they understand and that they have accurate facts.
  • Let them know it is ok if they feel upset or scared and talk to them about ways to cope with their feelings.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines to the extent possible. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities; if organized activities are cancelled, try to engage in the activity (or an adaptation of the activity) at home.

For more tips for supporting others, please visit COVID-19 resources.

Connect to help

If you or a loved one are struggling, help is available. There are many organizations that provide free or low-cost, virtual mental health supports for Canadians, including Wellness Together Canada, CMHA and Kids Help Phone . Visit our Get Help page to find more information and resources.

According to the Canadian Psychological Association, signs and symptoms that might signal a psychological problem or disorder for which professional help might be beneficial include:

  • Sleeping poorly, too much or too little
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or having panic attacks
  • Feeling angry, guilty, helpless, numb, or confused
  • Not wanting to get out of bed
  • Having difficulties concentrating
  • Excessive eating
  • Drinking more alcohol or taking more prescription drugs
  • Having little patience

If you are experiencing these symptoms, consult your doctor or a regulated healthcare professional.

End stigma with these 5 simple ways

Helping to end the stigma around mental illness can help people seek the help they need and create positive change. One of the biggest hurdles for anyone suffering from mental illness is overcoming the stigma of having a problem and asking for help. It is the number one reason why two-thirds of those living with a mental illness do not seek help.

Developed in partnership with Dr. Heather Stuart, the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University, here are 5 simple ways to help end the stigma that keeps too many who struggle with mental illness from seeking the help they need:

  1. Language matters: the words you use can make all the difference.
  2. Educate yourself: knowing the facts and myths about mental illness can be a great way to help end the stigma.
  3. Be kind: simple acts of kindness can help open up the conversation and let someone know you are there for them.
  4. Listen and ask: being a good listener and asking how you can help can be the first step in recovery.
  5. Talk about it: mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. Most people with mental health issues can and do recover, just by talking about it.

Listening with empathy

According to CAMH, listening to someone and giving them an opportunity to be heard is often one of the best things you can do for someone who is facing a mental health challenge. To open up a conversation and let someone know you’re listening, here are some things you could say:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I would like to hear more about what’s been going on with you.”
  • “When is a good time to talk?”
  • It’s our tendency to jump to problem solving when we want to help, but slowing down and just being with the person gives them a chance to feel connected and think about what would be most helpful for them.

    It’s important to show empathy, by putting yourself in their shoes, showing them you care and appreciate that they are going through a difficult time. Depending on what the person discloses, you can ask them if you could help them in any way.

    To help you begin a dialogue about mental health, the Bell Let’s Talk Conversation Guides were created. The guides provide information and resources on how you can facilitate a one-on-one dialogue or a group conversation in your community about mental health. They also have guidelines on how to have conversations with people you care about and may be concerned about.

Where can you get help?

Information on this site is not to be used for diagnosis, treatment or referral services. Individuals should contact their doctor and/or their local mental health or addiction agency for further information. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.