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Survey by the Université de Sherbrooke on the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic

Quebeckers’ mental health is deteriorating: Together, we can improve things

Sherbrooke, le 01 décembre 2020 – We already know that the pandemic is having major psychological repercussions on the population similar to other types of disasters. Dr. Mélissa Généreux, a professor and researcher at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the Université de Sherbrooke and medical advisor to the Direction de santé publique de l’Estrie, has completed a second phase of the Quebec study on the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic and has compared this round’s results with those from September. The conclusion: We must act now!

November survey highlights: what’s similar, what’s new

“As was the case two months ago, people aged 18 to 24 are the group most likely to experience significant symptoms of major anxiety or depression (46%). Health care workers also continue to show a high prevalence of probable anxiety or depression (31%). Remote workers are now included in this group and represent 27% of those psychologically affected by the pandemic,” explained Mélissa Généreux.

Conducted among 8,500 adults, the survey was conducted from November 6 to 18 in all regions of Quebec:

  • One in 4 adults (1 in 2 young adults) report symptoms that are consistent with generalized anxiety disorder or major depression. These symptoms are on the rise, especially among men and young people.
  • Serious suicidal ideation is now twice as common as before.
  • Psychological problems are much more prevalent in Montreal.
  • Essential workers and people who work remotely are now more affected.
  • Both the pandemic and the “infodemic” are impacting psychological health.
  • A sense of coherence remains a very important protective factor for mental health.
  • Abusive drinking is on the rise among people aged 35 and over.
  • Only 6 out of 10 adults would be willing to get vaccinated (a decline from the last survey).
  • More than one quarter of people perceive Government guidelines as exaggerated and unclear.

“As we get closer to an approved vaccine, the desire to get vaccinated is decreasing. This does not mean people will refuse to get vaccinated but rather that they are more reluctant to do so. Some of these attitudes can be attributed to a low sense of coherence as well as to negative attitudes towards government guidelines. According to the November survey, more than a quarter of the population perceive these guidelines as exaggerated and unclear,” said this professor and researcher in public health.

Despite these highly concerning results, Dr. Généreux is confident: “The more we know about the nature, scope, distribution and evolution of the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic and the associated risk or protective factors, the more we can help the authorities make informed decisions. I am very proud that our latest recommendations have led to partnerships to immediately deal with the situation with concrete action.”

Enacting recommendations: concerted action needed now

On November 2, Minister for Health and Social Services Lionel Carmant announced that the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) would be investing $100 million in mental health.

To implement concrete short-term solutions, the Minister enlisted the services of Dr. Généreux, who coordinated projects to help strengthen the resilience of individuals and communities after the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. She will act as an advisor for the deployment of “mental health scouts” throughout Quebec.

“Estrie has developed and still is developing expertise in this area, and all agencies involved in mental health are coordinating together. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver the best care and practices not only to our community but to all Quebeckers,” concluded Mélissa Généreux.

Estrie public health department already taking action

The global pandemic is an exceptional situation that has, and will have, impacts on the health and well-being of residents of the Estrie region. The Direction de santé publique de l’Estrie did not wait until the end of the pandemic to try and mitigate its collateral impacts and help people recover their psychosocial health. A Recovery Team has been created to carry out several mental health initiatives:

  • Communication strategies to better reach at-risk groups.
  • Tools to reduce confusion and encourage people to adopt preventive behaviours.
  • Local solutions to mitigate the collateral impacts of pandemic control measures (e.g., isolation, distress and deconditioning). 

The CIUSSS de l’Estrie – CHUS is offering support to different environments that make a request for it, such as schools, by organizing talks and discussion workshops on the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic and taking concrete action to mitigate these effects. A pilot project in collaboration with the Red Cross is also underway to build a network of citizen sentinels in Lac-Mégantic and its surrounding areas.

Recap of the latest survey results in Quebec

In September, levels of depression and anxiety in the general population were already significantly higher than before the pandemic. Young adults, Anglophones and health care workers were particularly affected by the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic.

In September, the survey showed that financial losses and experience with COVID itself (either being diagnosed with COVID or having been in contact with a case and having to self-isolate) were significant predictors of anxiety or depression. These same two factors rose in the November survey results.

Mélissa Généreux holds the following positions:
- Consulting physician, Direction de santé publique de l’Estrie / INSPQ
- Medical Chief of the Recovery Team, Direction de santé publique de l’Estrie
- Advisor to the Directorate of Mental Health Services, MSSS
- Associate Professor, Department of Sciences and Community Health, Université de Sherbrooke

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Geneviève Lussier, Media Relations Advisor
Communications Department | Université de Sherbrooke
819-212-3813 |

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