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EDITORIAL: No room left for stigma on mental health

Consider that one in every 20 people you know may have contemplated ending their lives.

In the era of COVID-19, there is no room left for stigma to hold us back from addressing the serious mental health concerns that exist in our society.

Our world is changing rapidly, and many of us are struggling to adapt. Whether you battled mental health issues before the pandemic hit, or whether social isolation, job loss or other uncertainties sparked by COVID-19 triggered that battle, you may find yourself in a spiral of depression, anxiety and dark thoughts.

In late June, the Canadian Mental Health Association sounded the alarm on a sharp increase in the number of Canadians who have experienced suicidal thoughts. That number had more than doubled from 2.5 per cent last year to six per cent in the thick of the pandemic in May.

Consider that one in every 20 people you know may have contemplated ending their lives. Perhaps you are that one in 20. As for the 1.6 million Canadians who reported having unmet mental health needs before the pandemic hit, those numbers are more alarming. They're five times as likely to feel depressed, four times as likely to have suicidal thoughts and four times as likely to have tried to harm themselves.

Our Indigenous people are at greater risk of suicide. Our LGBTQ community members are also at greater risk. Our local organizations, such as Stop Abuse In Families (SAIF), have seen the amount of people they serve increase by leaps and bounds, with SAIF receiving triple the amount of calls it did pre-pandemic. Domestic violence and elder abuse appear to be rampant.

This is as serious as it gets. In June, researchers from the University of Toronto warned a rise in unemployment brought on by COVID-19 could be the catalyst for thousands more suicides. A more recent study in August by researchers Roger McIntyre and Yena Lee estimated projected increases in unemployment over the next two years in Canada could claim more than 2,000 lives above and beyond those lives that are already lost annually to suicide.

In Alberta, these lives include farming families struggling with yet another poor harvest; retail workers whose jobs evaporated months ago; young people whose mental health spiraled out of control when they found themselves cut off from family and friends. We know there are people in the oil patch who have been hurting for years. Some of them are no longer with us.

We will be telling some of these stories over the next month, but merely telling the story is not enough. These grim findings make clear that there is no room left for us as a society, and as individuals, to shy away from discussing mental health – and then working to address this growing health care need. Lives hang in the balance.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.