It’s Mental Health Week, connect socially to protect mental health

SDG/PR – Most Ontarians rely on shortcuts to describe their emotional state—even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to new data released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association in partnership with Maru/Matchbox, 77 per cent of those asked “how are you?” rely on “I’m fine, thanks” to express how they’re doing, despite the fact that Ontarians are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days (66% negative vs. 34% positive).

The data were released to mark Canada’s 69th annual Mental Health Week, which runs May 4-10, 2020.

Despite a pandemic-driven growth in video-conferencing and social media usage, Canadians are feeling more isolated than ever (up 8 points from 39% to 47% in less than one month) and crave real, meaningful connections. In fact, 70 % of Ontarians report they would like to experience more meaningful social interactions in their daily life.

“Most Canadians want more social connection, yet they’re reluctant to have the kind of honest, open conversations that build the connection they crave,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA.

“In our society, it’s a cultural norm to ask people how they’re doing, but not to expect, nor provide, a truthful answer. This Mental Health Week, it’s time to get real about how we feel. It’s clear we need each other more than ever.”

Prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern. People with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour and suicide. And a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing out on family events and in-person activities and it appears they’re feeling it.

Almost half of Ontarians are feeling anxious (49%), and only eight per cent are feeling happy. As we face social distancing measures, it’s important to note that people don’t need to be close to feel close.

“Be a little ray of sunshine,” says mental health promoter Angele D’Alessio. “During this time of physical distancing I encourage you to share a funny image on your social media or pick up the phone and call a friend to reminisce on cherished memories. It doesn’t matter what tools you use to connect with each other whether it be by (phone, mail, text or internet) as long as we are staying connected socially and often. It feels good to connect—it’s actually good for everyone’s mental health.”

Strong social networks lead to better self-esteem, coping mechanisms and a sense of well-being, and reduce depression and distress by providing emotional support, companionship and opportunities for meaningful social engagement.

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