The reality of lockdown and pandemic anxieties

Helping Hands: The Distress Centre Calgary building, taken on Feb. 4. With problems surrounding the pandemic, many people in Calgary have been calling in to distress centres for counselling. (Photo by Michaella Go/The Press)

One year since the pandemic started, the COVID-19 virus has brought tremendous fears and worries to many people.

According to a survey conducted by Nanos for the Mental Health Commission of Canada in April 2020, Canadians reported that there is an increase in feeling regularly stressed compared to the month before the pandemic started.

David Kirby, the clinical service manager at the Distress Centre Calgary, said that loneliness and isolation are the biggest factors of anxiety and depression.

“The sense of loneliness, isolation, and the uncertainty around tends to be a big concern for many people,” said Kirby.

“During the pandemic, especially the lockdown when people are mostly stuck at home, the number of conflicts that people are having with their loved ones have increased,” added Kirby.

Issues such as conflicting relationships, domestic violence, and substance abuse are reportedly getting bigger in Calgary during this time.

There’s been an increased number of callers to distress centres, as people of all ages experience anxiety and depression in various forms and different reasons.

“It’s hard to say whether or not it’s [anxiety/stress level] all equal, or who’s [age group] specifically has been affected more,” said Kirby.

“We tend to hear from people across all age group. There isn’t really one major group that seems to be struggling more than others. We hear from everybody: from younger people to teenagers, to the people from their 20s, 30s, 40s, and all the way up until their 80s,” added Kirby.

Others who have never experienced such stress or anxiety before have also come for help and counselling.

“We don’t know specifically and we don’t necessarily ask what the callers’ psychiatric histories are, but one of the things that people are reporting about is that what they are feeling is very unusual and that they don’t really know how to describe how they’re getting affected,” said Kirby.

“Usually, the conversations can often be about helping identify what the caller’s feelings or experiences are and for a lot of people, that could be dealing with losses, death and grief.”

Moreover, although the reality of the “new normal” may seem “normal” for some, others still feel a certain uneasiness and restlessness.

“I’ve seen these stories where people are getting used to living with the pandemic, but I am not so sure that that is a general statement for everybody,” said Kirby.

“The struggle is still real for many, many people.”

With a higher number of callers to distress centres during these trying times, the lockdown has also presented a big challenge for counsellors.

“One of the biggest challenges that I think the distress centres have experienced was successfully navigating in closing our offices and moving [our staff at their homes] at least temporarily while we’re still doing counselling via phone calls or Zoom meetings,” said Kirby.

“It’s getting everything set up for working from home without missing any particular client or without losing any services available.”

“Plus, the reliability in technology that sometimes has its limitations: how do we provide the best services and how do we stay tuned into the best technology that we can manage to be able to provide great service for clients,” said Kirby.

The feeling of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, however, does not just stop during these trying times.

Kirby said that there may be a huge possibility of people getting more anxious and stressed when everything goes back to “normal”.

“I think that going back to our old normal when we resume more of those activities and freedoms that we used to do and have prior COVID may be as equally as difficult as of the situation today,” said Kirby.

People will still have those anxieties about catching the virus or the virus still being there and I cannot imagine a time in the future where we’re going to completely ignore the value of wearing masks. – David Kirby.

Amy Ball, the communications manager of Canadian Mental Health Association Calgary, reminded people to always try to connect with their loved ones and to constantly check in on people who may be living alone.

“Don’t just ask ‘how are you’, but make use of permission to be able to ask people honestly about what they are feeling,” said Ball.

“Let us also get away from our phone or computer screens and go outside for a walk, make time for ourselves, and really just understand that it is okay to be not okay,” added Ball.