Impacts of pandemic lingering

Many British Columbians still battling mental health after-effects

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By MARIANNE MIRAMBEL

Four years after COVID first struck, Seth Magdaong still struggles with his mental health and the impact of the pandemic.

“It was the uncertainty that scares you the most,” Magdaong told the Voice. “Even now, I may have manageable anxiety but at times when I can’t control it, I feel it worsens over time.”

Magdaong, 27, is one of an increasing number of B.C. residents still battling mental health issues in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The results of a national survey released by Statistics Canada in December 2023 said that while more Canadians said they were happier in 2023 than during the darkest days of COVID, one in four adults reported continuing moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder — the same number as in 2021.

Justine Blake, 31, was diagnosed with mild depression a year after the pandemic hit.

“I didn’t know it was depression until I saw a psychiatrist,” Blake said in an interview.

Blake still struggles to come to terms with the fate of her mother who died in 2021 because of complications from COVID.

“My mother was healthy, bubbly and joyful. She worked out. It was so sudden, and I never forgot about how she suffered,” Blake said.

After losing her mother, she spiraled downhill and lost his interest in life. She quit her job and sold her Lego collection.

And she started to isolate herself.

“I do not want to go out, meet my usuals, even go take a shower is a task for me,” Blake said.

Some still fear stigma of mental health diagnosis

Nicole Jenni, a PhD candidate in Behavioural Science at UBC, said many people coping with mental health struggles don’t seek help because they fear stigma or being admitted to hospital.

People need to invest resources into taking care of themselves, at least at a basic level, she said.

“You don’t get adequate amounts of sleep, you don’t keep up with your daily tasks and goals so you let your workload pile up, you miss deadlines your mental health can suffer,” Jenni said.

“I think people tend to think that poor mental health is something we do or do not have, but in reality, we all have the capacity to develop mental health struggles if we don’t invest resources to protect this.”

After moving to Canada 11 years earlier, Magdaong had adapted well to his new home — he made friends and got involved with others who shared his interests.

However, when the pandemic hit, he regressed to being the scared 12-year-old child who had just moved to a new country.

“I felt alone even if I’m staying with my mom. I felt sad. I felt like I needed to restart my life which I found so difficult when I first moved here,” Magdaong said.

His mom Armida Tecson had immigrated a few years before him, hoping to give him a better life.

Being an only child, Magdaong had no one to speak to, didn’t know how to express what he was feeling and found it difficult to manage his emotions.

But his mom was always there for him.

“I always talk to mom, and she gives me advice all the time. Heavy but easy conversation. It gets emotional at times,” Magdaong said.

But the pandemic brought a more severe level of heightened anxiety.

“Talking to a psychiatrist was more triggering as she diagnosed me with severe anxiety,” he said. “She asked for more details about my pain and my triggers.”

Tecson said as she could see her son struggling and knew he needed help.

“We went through tough times during COVID,” she recalled.

Reaching out can bring relief

A few months after Blake’s mother died a concerned friend suggested she see her doctor.

“A friend of mine told me that I needed help, I was exhausted being alone each day and she somehow managed to convince me,” said Blake.

It was hard for Blake to see a doctor as being in a hospital or clinic as she is triggered by anything associated with a medical setting.

“I scheduled an appointment right away without realizing I was afraid of anything that is related to a hospital,” Blake said.

Though the first few sessions were online, the thought of speaking to a doctor was exhausting for her.

When Blake was scheduled to meet the psychiatrist in a hospital, “I was very nervous and shaking.”

“I wanted to disappear that time, but I just pushed myself and think this could help me get my life back.”

Blake is still taking a prescription for mild depression while Magdaong no longer needs any. Both now know how to access mental health services when they need them.

Mental health of kids and young adults impacted more by pandemic

According to an April 2021 article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, children and adolescents were expected to have more long-term mental health issues related to the pandemic.

“Children and adolescents are more likely to experience high rates of depression and anxiety during and after a pandemic,” said the article, co-authored by University of Alberta assistant professor Salima Meherali.

The recent data released by StatsCan indicated that the prevalence of mental health issues among young adults remained higher in 2023 than it was at the start of the pandemic.

A third of those aged 18 to 24 reported severe symptoms of depression – the same level as two years earlier.

The report said LGBTQ+ adults were most likely to report moderate to severe symptoms of mental health issues, with 45 per cent suffering from depression, 35 per cent struggling with anxiety and 19 per cent dealing with PTSD.

Blake said the most important thing people dealing with their mental health need to do is “overcome your fear of being judged by the public.”

“You must put your mental health as your priority if you want to take care of your family and the next generation,” she said. “You need to look out for yourself if you want to lookout for your loved ones.”

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