World Suicide Prevention Day takes place annually on Sept. 10. (Contributed)

Concerns over mental health loom as B.C. enters fall during COVID-19

CMHA anticipates people to seek more virtual counseling services this fall and winter

World Suicide Prevention Day is a day where people can join in unison to promote an understanding of suicide.

Annually on Sept. 10, people in more than 50 countries come together to support those impacted by a suicide attempt or loss.

Aaaryn Secker, manager of learning and development with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna (CMHA) said she has seen an uptick in people struggling with mental health in Kelowna due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the CMHA is experiencing a high demand for its virtual counselling services.

“In March when we launched our Coping with Current Event Series we were having up to 80 people register for every webinar that we were putting out,” said Secker.

The Interior Crisis Line Network (ICLN), which spans 221 square kilometres within the Interior Health region has also been receiving an increase in the number of calls.

According to the network, the crisis line has seen an increase in call volume of roughly 30 per cent and in some weeks it’s up to 50 per cent.

While the initial COVID-19 outbreak and isolation that came with quarantine brought on depression and encouraged many people to seek professional help, by summer, relaxation on restrictions in B.C. allowed for residents to visit loved ones, enjoy the sun, and in turn improve their happiness. According to Secker, the CMHA’s virtual counselling services dropped in attendance in August.

However, as the months turn into fall and winter, Secker anticipates people to seek more virtual counselling services.

“We do expect to see an uptick (of people using our services) again with the stress of school, with seasonal affective disorder, with people feeling more isolated,” said Secker.

“We hope that there won’t have to be more clampdowns on social gatherings, but we know that it’s possible and the fear of getting sick itself stresses out a lot of folks.”

Back in May, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health commissioned a survey of 1,000 Canadians, which suggested heavy drinking is highest among younger people and those worried about personal finances due to the pandemic. Nearly 30 per cent of those between 18 and 39 reported heavy episodic drinking at least once between the week of May 8 to 12.

To manage seasonal affective disorder and feelings of isolation, Secker encourages people to get above the cloud line and receive as much sunlight as possible during dark times. Activities such as snowshoeing, skiing and hiking are all good avenues to get outside, have social connections and receive vitamin D.

While people with pre-existing mental health conditions are the most at risk, Secker said the CMHA is seeing more first time users of its services.

“We know people who are already struggling are at greater risk statistically, but that being said people who have already experienced trouble with their mental health actually often can be very resilient and have a lot of skills to pull from already. Certainly, they can be more at risk, but we have to look at both sides of that.”

READ MORE: Increase in calls due to pandemic: Interior Crisis Line Network

Secker said many people experiencing depression at a greater level for the first time brought on by the pandemic are dealing with the unknown. She said if mental health complications are new for an individual, it may be harder to for them to seek help or to talk about it.

Restrictions surrounding social distancing has also made it near impossible for people to receive in-person counselling. According to Secker, a lot of young people have been uncomfortable with virtual counselling services.

“In some ways, you would think that youth would be happy to have virtual services, but at the same time you’re kind of under a microscope on zoom.”

In terms of suicide prevention, Secker said a lot of people have a hard time recognizing when someone is struggling if they aren’t present in front of us physically. Due to social distancing measures and less physical social interactions, Secker said it’s important to be aware of different signs and symptoms that people might be experiencing.

Secker encourages people to check-in with friends and family you don’t hear from as much or who don’t seem to be acting like their normal selves.

“When people are having a really tough time it’s often very difficult to ask for help, so as friends, family and colleagues, we need to be the ones reaching out.”

To learn more about suicide prevention, take courses and spread awareness, visit suicideinfo.ca.

READ MORE: B.C. to shut down nightclubs, banquet halls; limit late-night alcohol sales at bars

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