Municipal Pension Plan

Mental health and the impacts of COVID-19

Tuesday, Jul 6, 2021

The social isolation of COVID-19 has taken a toll on our collective mental health. But for retirees, it is an added stressor. Mental health issues don’t end when you retire; sometimes retirement can actually bring on depression and anxiety.

The uncertainty, fear, and social isolation resulting from COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of many individuals and families. In response, governments and organizations—both locally and around the world—have been trying to understand the impacts so they can put into place appropriate supports that can help. At Pacific Blue Cross, we’re doing our part to connect members to the resources they need.

To get a sense of where our members were at, Pacific Blue Cross surveyed them in January. We asked questions about how their mental health had been faring during the pandemic (as compared to before it began) and how they’ve been coping with it. For members age 55+, we learned some alarming, but not surprising, things:

  • 45% of respondents felt more lonely than usual,
  • 45% felt more anxious than usual,
  • 49% felt more stressed than usual, and
  • 52% felt more worried than usual.

We know that retirement can bring on mixed emotions. While many people feel elated to have their days free to do activities they love, others experience loss—of identity, of their normal routines, or of that all-important network of work friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, by isolating us from friends and family, COVID-19 has added to these mental wellness challenges.


Medication claims tell a story

We see in our data that people over the age of 60 use more drugs to treat mental health concerns than any other age cohort. In 2020, more than one in four MPP members and their dependents made claims for medications to help them with anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. In fact, drugs for mental health and nervous system are the third most prevalent type of medications used by MPP members, after diabetes and cardiovascular drugs.

While we’re on the topic of diabetes, we should briefly mention the relationship between diabetes and mental health. According to Diabetes Canada, the prevalence of a major depressive disorder, for example, is double among individuals living with diabetes compared to people without a chronic medical illness. Conversely, people living with depression have an approximately 40‐60% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These stats demonstrate the importance of identifying and addressing any mental health concerns you may be having.  


Drug-free options for mental health

If you feel like your mental health could use a boost, why not give some of these holistic methods a try?

  • Eating a nutritious diet and going for a walk in the fresh air can really help.
  • Close your eyes and do some deep breathing or mindfulness meditation to lower your stress levels.
  • Massage therapy or acupuncture can release some of the stress that your body holds onto. Your benefits plan offers paramedical coverage for both of these treatments.
  • Try and limit your alcohol intake because it may affect your sleep—and poor sleep can cause the blues.
  • Reach out to your friends and family, or volunteer for an organization or a cause that is important to you. Keeping active and spending time with other people can improve your sense of wellbeing.


Mental health support is available

One of the positive results of the pandemic is that society has started a much deeper conversation about the importance of acknowledging that mental health is a key component of wellness and wellbeing. This is a welcome shift—the issue is plagued with fear and stigma, which discourages people from accessing the help they need.

If you feel that you need additional support for your mental health, we suggest you connect with some professional help—your benefits plan includes coverage for psychologists ($500 per person per year). Another option for mental health support is online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Online CBT offers one-on-one support from a registered therapist while following a structured and clinically effective approach that makes you aware of your negative thinking and prepares you to better cope with challenging situations. Online CBT providers offer programs to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, insomnia, panic disorder, pain management, and alcohol and other substance use issues as well as pandemic-related anxiety. Programs range from 6 to 20 weeks and are all offered virtually. Your data and interactions with the therapist are completely private and secure.

In addition, many communities have health programs and services that support people with their mental health. Wellness Together Canada offers free online resources that can help you manage worry, stress, and low mood. The BC division of the Canadian Mental Health Association - BC Division has a lot of information and tools that help with different mental health concerns—including what to do if you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis and needs immediate assistance.

While vaccinations in BC are high and public health officials have begun loosening restrictions that prevented us from spending time with the people we love and doing the things we love to do, the impact of the pandemic on our collective psyche will likely take some time to unravel. In the meantime, please be kind to yourself and do what you can to heal and prosper.

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