Provincially, the Canadian Mental Health Association's Waterloo Wellington branch is reporting a 17 per cent increase in people seeking help for their mental health since the pandemic began in 2020.
Locally they are seeing a huge increase in referrals for children and youth seeking treatment and services.
Their referrals are 146 per cent higher in counselling and treatment services for children’s mental health. The most intensive services, which includes child psychiatry and psychology are up 96 per cent from the start of the pandemic. Families seeking support is 34 per cent higher.
CEO Helen Fishburn said they have had huge increase in referrals to programs for eating disorders as well as early psychosis.
The local CMHA covers Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and the Guelph Wellington area.
“We can’t just switch off the impact to our mental health from the last couple years."
"There are a lot more people who have been affected, who are more vulnerable than other people. So we're seeing a lot more people in our community, for example, who are homeless, who are struggling with addiction issues because that's been a way they have coped through the pandemic. People have lost their businesses, loved ones, there is a significant amount of grief people are struggling with.
"All of that is still there,” said Fishburn in an interview with CambridgeToday.
During polling done last year, some themes emerged, the main one being that Ontarians appear to still be very worried about their future, even though we are making progress with the pandemic and COVID.
"There is a large cumulative impact from the last two and a half years."
It also showed that some groups were affected more so than others during the pandemic, specifically children and youth. CMHA categorizes youth up until the age of 18.
Disruptions to children's daily life were significant, learning from home had an impact and for youth not having a clear pathway moving forward was challenging or still is, Fishburn said.
When COVID case numbers go up it makes people worried and stressed as well, as noted by some of their clinicians.
Cameron Dearlove, interim executive director of the Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries, part of a network of counselling agencies in region, volunteers and works in the non-profit sector.
“Across those agencies last year in 2021, we saw a 71 per cent increase in youth enrolment into counselling compared to 2020, which was already a bigger year.”
A survey created by the Children and Youth Planning Table found that youth in Cambridge were struggling more with their mental health then those in the rest of the region. Youth in Cambridge reported feeling a lower sense of belonging,a key indicator of mental health, said Dearlove.
Only 51 per cent of Cambridge youth surveyed reported their mental health to be on the positive side.
“Youth are reporting that they are struggling and that is not a surprise. Youth mental health was kind of at a crisis point before the pandemic and then we add the pandemic and the stress of that. The shutdowns and kids were lonelier and more isolated, struggling to adapt to this new normal.”
So far in 2022, they are reporting a 19 per cent increase in youth enrolment in counseling, in addition to the 71 per cent they saw last year.
The increase in people seeking counselling from FCCCND and the other connected agencies to theirs went up 39 percent last year.
“It just speaks to the number of people in the community who are struggling."
"These are the people who are reaching out and we know there are a lot of people who aren’t reaching out. Whether that’s because of the stigma, or reduced support to mental health, sometimes people are afraid of the costs,” said Dearlove.
Currently they have a five to six month wait list for people seeking treatment.
There aren't enough counsellors to go around, and the staffing shortages mean people often aren't able to get an appointment for months at a time.
“When people reach out it’s usually not their first day dealing with a mental health struggle, their reaching out usually after quite some time and when their ready to receive support to find out it will be another 5 or 6 months until somebody can help you that is really discouraging and something that is difficult on our team.”
The clinicians are also reporting that children and youth don't feel things have returned to normal yet, such as pre-COVID life.
"They’re still struggling with coming back, especially being virtual for the last few years. Going back out there into the community, and I wouldn’t say this is just for youth, I’ve talked to adults who are like that, who are returning back to the office and suddenly were thrown into just go back into the public and feel normal right so a lot of people are struggling with that.”
Dearlove said many counsellors are reporting seeing grief within their patients for a variety of reasons from the last two-years.
"People lost family members. Kids lost their graduations, what they expected out of their educations, a lot of kids are feeling far behind now in their education and parents are stressed out. It’s not normal.
"It is not normal for the community to be experiencing this level of mental health challenges. We need to have conversations about that, we have a lot of work to do as a community to make sure everyone is supported.”