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‘We are in that echo pandemic now’

‘We are in that echo pandemic now’
Phyllis O'Connor, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Saskatchewan Branch. (Photo courtesy of Phyllis O'Connor)

COVID-19 isn’t the only health concern sweeping the province.

As positive tests have increased, so too has uncertainty, leading to increased anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental health concerns.

“We’re receiving a lot more calls for people just looking for support for their anxiety and depression because this is a time where people feel they have no control,” said Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan Division executive director Phyllis O’Connor.

“There’s no way to forecast what’s going to come. Uncertainty brings anxiety. We’re also seeing it manifest in things like addiction or substance use problems as people are trying to self-medicate for the anxiety they’re feeling. There are relationship problems in marriages. There is increased domestic violence. On many, many levels we are seeing a huge upswing in mental health issues.”

CMHA forecasted as much back in March when its national branch warned of a second pandemic, or echo pandemic, that would follow along behind COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, they have been bang on,” O’Connor said. “We are in that echo pandemic now.”

With demand for mental health supports increasing, the CMHA is introducing a program called BounceBack that allows residents to access guided self-help for mild to moderate depression, anxiety stress or worry. The program is effective in helping adults and youth 15+ manage their symptoms through telephone coaching and a selection of online skill-building workshops to chose from. The program is flexible and allows patients to, on their own time, overcome their symptoms and improve their mental well-being now and in the future. The program is free, in part thanks to a donation from Bell Let’s Talk.

“Bell Let’s Talk is proud to help CMHA Saskatchewan introduce the BounceBack program to Saskatchewan to reach more people in need as the demand for virtual mental health supports increases as a result of COVID-19,” said Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let’s Talk. “Through the expansion of the BounceBack program, CMHA is supporting the people of Saskatchewan in this time of crisis and uncertainty and building a foundation for recovery in communities across the province.”

BounceBack has previously operated in B.C., Ontario and Manitoba, and has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms by 50 per cent at program completion. It’s based on cognitive behavioural therapy and available in English and French. Participants can be referred by a doctor or they can refer themselves. On Wednesday it was rolled out nationwide.

The program is delivered by coaches who are trained extensively and overseen by clinical psychologists.

“It really is significant support for people, especially now with COVID,” O’Connor said.

“We felt this was a program that we needed to get going sooner rather than later.”

The program isn’t meant for people who have severe symptoms, as they need a higher level of intervention and care, she said.

“It’s meant for those people that are really starting to feel that the anxiety is affecting their life and their daily functioning. That’s what this type of program can help support.”

While there’s no cost and no waitlist to get in, O’Connor said the availability of the BounceBack coaches could fluctuate. Still, she said, the program is expected to help take a load off of the provinces overtaxed mental health care system,

“We know that there are huge wait lines for people wanting to see counsellors or seeing psychologists,” she said.

“This fills some of that gap and hopefully will take off some pressure on the more intensive supports. I think even past COVID, this is going to be important because the mental health problems are not going to end the day we get a vaccine. This is going to carry on and so will BounceBack. It’s going to be in a position to support people for the long term, rather than just through the short term, through this pandemic.”

For more information or to register, visit https://bounceback.cmha.ca/