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Below the Surface: Hidden Effects of the Pandemic

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By: Thomas Golka

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how we work, socialize, and carry out our daily lives. As a result, the mental health of the general population has suffered substantially, and the demand for mental health services is anticipated to increase considerably.  We can get through this by supporting one another – and ensuring 24/7 access to emotional and mental health support is as easy as a phone call.  

Omar Bseiso, a student researcher and Crisis Centre crisis responder volunteer, has found a clear relationship between crisis centre contact frequency and the prevalence of COVID-19 in British Columbia. Bseiso’s findings are based on over 72,000 contacts made to The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC. His study also reveals the long-term issue of how crisis centre contacts have outpaced population growth significantly over a ten-year span.

As a reflection of public health and wellbeing, crisis centre contacts have not been fully explored. These services are provided by non-profit organizations which are often focused on getting the work done instead of research. Moreover, crisis centres have been underfunded and under-resourced, with demand for immediate emotional support far outstripping budgets. In part, this can be attributed to a perception that crisis lines are optional – not “real” mental health care. Bseiso notes this is a view that is “fundamentally flawed.” 

In particular, Bseiso discovered that Crisis Centre of BC contacts have increased significantly since February 2020 and have remained 20-30 per cent elevated since that time. This coincides directly with the initial detection of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia. 2020 as a whole saw average contacts increase 25.5 per cent over 2019 contacts.

A recent report, “COVID-19 and Mental Health: Policy Responses and Emerging Issues” by The Mental Health Commission of Canada, notes that “concerted planning and reforms are needed to stay ahead of the worst mental health and substance use impacts.” 

The sudden emergence of this pandemic gave no time for crisis centres to accommodate the demand. Centres across BC have reported increased call volume as a result of the pandemic. 

With crisis centres struggling to respond to increased call demand, those at risk may be turning towards riskier coping methods, such as substance abuse. Bseiso’s study notes there has been an extraordinary number of drug overdoses, especially in May and June of 2020.

Although Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Office,  has recently said, “We’re seeing an encouraging trend in our COVID-19 curve” with respect to the physical health of British Columbians, there are “long-term, complex mental health impacts on the general population that may take time to emerge.” 

Crisis centres have a clear role to play in managing these mental health impacts. British Columbians are already turning to crisis centres as a preferred place for support. All that is needed is to make sure they have the capacity to meet the growing demand. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, especially with thoughts of suicide, reach out: 

  • Vancouver Coastal Regional Distress Line: 604-872-3311
  • Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433
  • Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789
  • Online Chat Service for Youth: (Noon to 1am)
  • Online Chat Service for Adults: (Noon to 1am)

Media Contact

Jeffrey Preiss
Director, Development and Communications
604-872-1811 ext. 222  |  jpreiss [at] crisiscentre [dot] bc [dot] ca
Phone and email are monitored Monday-Friday during business hours

Stacy Ashton
Executive Director
sashton [at] crisiscentre [dot] bc [dot] ca
Email is monitored Monday-Friday during business hours