From the start of the pandemic there has been real concern about the effect of lockdowns on mental health patients. That is now evident in the second wave of the pandemic that has led to an increase in stress and anxiety, brought upon by new restrictions and the onset of a harsh winter. It has also caused disturbing levels of despair, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness in the Canadian population according to a new survey released by CMHA in partnership with UBC researchers.

The survey shows that 7 out of 10 Canadians are worried about the second wave of the virus, with almost 58 per cent worried about a loved one or family member dying, and only 21 per cent feeling hopeful. As winter approaches, 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated since March, with the decline ‘more pronounced in those who are unemployed (61 per cent), those with a pre-existing mental health issue (61 per cent), younger people ages 18-24 (60 per cent), Indigenous peoples (54 per cent), those identify as LGBTQ2+ (54 per cent) and those with a disability (50 per cent)’. Almost half of women (45 per cent) and a third of men (34 per cent) say their mental health has declined.

“Cold weather, uncertainty, eroded social networks and restrictions on holiday gatherings are hitting at a time when people are already anxious, hopeless and fearful that things are going to get worse,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “I am afraid that many people are in such despair that they can’t see past it.”

In times like these, the increasing adaptation of Virtual Healthcare for Mental health becomes more important. While the Government of Canada does offer tools, resources and virtual counselling for mental health and substance use support, it is not nearly enough for a population stuck at home and without any knowledge on how to deal with stress and anxiety. Still, here is how that can change:

  1. Anywhere-to-anywhere Virtual Health Visits

Providing patients and providers the ability to use virtual e-health (face-to-face) visits should be one of the most important priorities of any mental health institution. Tools like Microsoft Teams and solutions like Corolar Virtual Care (CVC) can help providers bridge the gap between care coordinators and patients.

  1. Remote Patient Monitoring

Monitoring patients from any location through connected or unconnected devices helps provide a guide for future references for the providers and maintain a close patient-provider relationship.

  1. Online Treatment and Resources

Online treatments and resources help patients receive treatment in groups or individually using an app or other digital services which provide self-directed learning and methods to connect with a provider.

  1. Clinical Digital Messaging

Maintaining a link through messaging between patients and providers such as text, email, instant messaging, or voice to text can go a long way in the averting the negative effects of large scale lockdowns.

While these are just some basic steps which are required in order to enable Virtual Healthcare for mental health patients during the pandemic, a long-term strategy for adoption of virtual health solutions is long due for Canada and the province of Ontario in the post-COVID era.