COVID-19 causes more people to struggle with mental health issues

By Victoria Gray
Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic cases of the virus have hit all-time highs of almost 14,000 cases a day in Ontario, but another health crisis is also reaching a tipping point.
Mental health and addiction was already a crisis on Six Nations before the pandemic and now the need for services is overwhelming.
Charity Fleming, co-owner of Qualia Counselling Services, who operate a centre in Ohsweken said There are more people seeking services, but those who were already struggling are experiencing more severe symptoms.
“I would say the cases are more intense in terms of symptoms,” she said. “There’s been studies done already and a lot of the research has shown, for Indigenous people there’s about 60 per cent who are already suffering with mental health problems. Their symptoms have gone to a severe point a lot of cases there’s an increase in thoughts of suicide and self harm, either cutting or self harming in other ways.”
Brody Thomas, Manager of Six Nations Mental Health and Addictions Services told Six Nations Elected Council in September the number of people seeking services has doubled from about 15 to 25 a month before the pandemic, to running intakes of almost 45 new patients a month. The increase has caused a lengthy waitlist that at the time included 90 community members, where there was no wait pre-pandemic.
On December 30th he told Turtle Island News there had been a steady stream on people coming in to seek services over the holiday season break.
“We’re one of the only places open right now,” he said. “We’ve noticed a rise throughout the entire pandemic. It’s been steady rise for a while now.”
Thomas and Fleming both suggested to those who are fighting back depression and anxiety to try to stay connected to loved ones, friends and to practice self care as much as possible.
“How people is cope is kind of unique to the individual,” Thomas said.
He says there are four aspects of mental health he and his team focus on when trying to help someone create that self care plan, which are mental, spiritual, physical and emotional.
“It gets overwhelming, the fear of the unknown. Most anxiety provoking things we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Mental self care can include talking to a loved one or again engaging in a hobby
He suggested anything that makes a person happy or relaxed is a form of self care. Exercise can help with depression whether it’s an intense work out, a walk outside or for those with mobility issues a small walk around the house can make a world of difference.
He also says things like movies, music, art, automotive repair and any other safe activities that are enjoyable and help people cope is a great place to start self care.
Social interaction is also very important when it comes to maintaining mental wellbeing, even if you can’t physically close due to the pandemic.
He says people are taking to sitting in their respective cars in coffee shop parking lots taking to friends.
“I think it’s just, the important part is to do it safely with social distancing and to think about how can you adapt your personal self care plan to fit inside the distancing. Finding other ways to do things that you like that are shut down,” he said.
If you enjoyed going to the movies, try to watch at home and create that movie theatre feeling, with a projector or movie theatre style snacks.
He said emotional aspect is different for everyone, but one thing he suggests is letting those emotions come and if you feel like crying, cry; if you feel like screaming, scream into a pillow.
The spiritual aspect is confused with religion, which he says it can be church or Longhouse, but it can also be sitting by the water playing guitar or creating something.
“Whatever makes your spirit feel good for that piece. Covering those four areas is how we would go about making a plan,” he said.
Fleming also said these areas are important to plan for in the event of another shut down. What will you need, how will you adjust your care plan to help you cope and preserve your mental health.
She also suggests positive coping methods and optimism can help keep people on a more even keel.
Those positive coping methods can include things like problem focused coping where you are actively finding solutions to your problems and regulating your emotions.
She says being able to access emotional support is important as is looking at different ways to interpret our experiences.
“Optimism is another catalyst for post-traumatic growth, if we are considering this traumatic,” she said.
One way to do that is called changing the channel. If you find yourself thinking to much about the pandemic or your own anxieties actively decide to think about something more enjoyable, like summer activities or a hobby.
Another coping mechanism she suggests is jumping ahead in time. Imagine yourself in a happier time, when the pandemic numbers were low and you could access the things you enjoyed, or think about the things you’ll do when the pandemic is over.
“When you get there to the end fo the tunnel, when there’s a ray of hope, what are things you would have told yourselves to get through it now. This is showing it gives people, they experience relief of anxiety and dread. It’s one of those momentary daily habits to help you feel better in the moment,” Fleming said.
Six Nations Mental Health is open and can help create a self-care plan for those in need.
For more information call 519-445-2143 or walk in to the White Pines Wellness Centre. If you are in need of immediate assistance call the Six Nation Crisis line at 1-866-445-2204.
Qualia counselling specializes in cognitive behavioural therapy. For more information call 1(844) 380-3228.
“Walk in, call us ,we can help you talk about what’s bothers you, we can also help come up with a plan with workers. Like I said it’s unique to everyone. The important part is to look at a wholistic plan and make sure you’re covering the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional,” Thomas said.

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