A significant number of BC residents are experiencing more worry (62%), stress (60%), anxiety (59%), and boredom (59%), compared to pre-pandemic levels, and those experiencing more loneliness has increased 10 percentage points since September (up to 53%)
Vancouver, BC —A research study on mental health commissioned by Pacific Blue Cross and conducted by Insights West has found that the state of mental health of many adult BC residents is precarious, with nearly half reporting their mental health to be worse than it was pre-pandemic, and a majority in BC are feeling more worry, stress, anxiety, boredom and loneliness compared before COVID-19.
When British Columbians are asked about the state of their overall mental health and compare it to the fall, there is surprisingly little improvement despite the hope of vaccinations on the horizon. When asked about the September to December 2020 time period, the majority (57%) of BC residents consider their mental health to be ‘excellent’ (8%) ‘very good’ (17%) or ‘good’ (32%), exactly the same number as their current state (57%). This compares to 81% who considered their mental health to be positive pre-pandemic. Currently, a significant number of BC residents (43%) provide low scores, including ‘fair’ (24%), ‘poor’ (13%) or ‘very poor’ (4%), compared to just 19% before COVID-19. Mental health issues seem to be disproportionately affecting females and younger British Columbians. Females (51% ‘fair’, ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health), and those between 18-34 years of age (56%) are far more likely to be struggling.
There is potentially some good news in the future, as 25% think their mental health will improve in the next several weeks, and that increases to 42% when the timeframe is expanded to the next several months.
When it comes to specific negative feelings and emotions relating to mental health, a much higher proportion of residents are feeling down relative to before the pandemic. The proportion of residents feeling more worried (62%, including 19% who are feeling ‘much more worried’) is significant relative to the number feeling less worried than normal (7%). Anxiety levels have also been heightened during the pandemic, with 59% feeling more anxious than usual (including 20% who are feeling ‘much more anxious’). Higher than usual boredom levels are also affecting 59% of BC residents (including 21% who are feeling ‘much more bored’). Given the social distancing guidelines and rules against mixing households, it is also not surprising that 53% are feeling more lonely than normal (including 19% who are feeling ‘much more lonely’). Once again, females and younger residents are feeling these negative emotions (worried, stressed, anxious and lonely) more than others, with results about 10 points higher than males and older British Columbians.
Compared to April and September research conducted by Insights West and Pacific Blue Cross, some results are slightly better now, but the overall direction when it comes to the mental health of British Columbians is still concerning. In the early part of the pandemic, 53% of British Columbians considered their mental health to be ‘excellent’, ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in March, staying at that same level for the summer, and rising slightly to the current level of 57%. On the other hand, when it comes to stress, worry, anxiety and boredom, none of the measures have improved significantly since the pandemic began, and in fact, loneliness has increased ten points since last measured (53% compared to 43% in April).
Conversely, with the exception of gratitude, positive mental health emotions are being felt far less often by the vast majority of residents. Only 23% are feeling more hopeful, 16% more confident, 15% more contented, and 13% more excited than usual whereas far more are feeling less hopeful (39%), less confident (34%), less contented (39%), and less excited (46%). On a positive note, nearly half of BC residents (49%) are feeling more gratitude than they were feeling prior to the start of the pandemic (including 17% who are feeling ‘a lot more grateful’), whereas only 12% are feeling less grateful. This mirrors the results of a study done in December 2020.
Whether a symptom or a cause of poorer mental health ratings, there are no consistently positive or negative trends in different activity levels that can affect mental health. British Columbians are divided between those who are exercising more (29%) versus those who are exercising less (34%) since the pandemic began. The explosion of home cooking during the pandemic has apparently resulted in 32% eating better compared to pre-pandemic (whereas 21% are eating less healthily). Alcohol and cannabis consumption have risen since the pandemic began, with 30% consuming more, and fewer (22%) consuming less. Sleep patterns have also been disrupted, with one-in-five (23%) saying they have improved their sleeping habits versus one-third (33%) who are experiencing poorer quality sleep. A slightly larger number feel they are less connected with friends or family (39%) compared to those who are more connected (33%). On a positive note, a much larger proportion are walking more for exercise (44%), and many are trying something new (36%) or engaging in activities and hobbies that they enjoy (40%).
Of significant concern is the finding that people are less likely to seek the outside help of a mental health professional during the pandemic (20% report they or someone in their household is doing this less compared to 13% seeking help more). There has also been a shift away from in-person and towards virtual/online/phone mental services during the pandemic. In-person psychiatrist/ psychologist/ counselling services has dropped (5% more, 19% less) and conversely the virtual use of these services has increased (14% more, 5% less). Use of health crisis lines usage has stayed at a similar level (4% use more, 4% use less), as has employer-based counselling programs (6% more, 8% less), community health programs (3% more, 9% less). The use of in-person intervention/support groups has dropped (2% more, 10% less), but the virtual use has not seen a corresponding increase (5% more, 3% less).
“The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the mental health and well-being of British Columbians that is proving to be wider reaching than the economic toll that we’ve experienced” says Steve Mossop, president of Insights West. “The extent to which BC residents are feeling down has been widespread, although it seems that the vaccine is giving people hope that things will improve.”
“At Pacific Blue Cross we listen to British Columbians as we work to provide our clients and members with mental health support to fit their needs,“ says John Crawford, President and CEO, Pacific Blue Cross. “We know there is no single solution to mental health, which is why we provide a range of options like proactive health and wellness programs, virtual doctors, online mental health support as well as counselling and psychology benefits to improve the health and wellbeing of British Columbians.”
About Insights West:
Insights West is a full-service marketing research firm based in Western Canada. Since 2012, the company has conducted over one million surveys, executed 2,000 studies, and issued over 350 press releases on a variety of topics, correctly predicting the outcomes of 25 out of 26 elections and plebiscites. Insights West is a team of passionate, truth-seeking researchers who question everything to uncover the truth and what is emerging for a diverse set of clients. With an understanding of shifting markets, consumer and societal trends, and commitment to uncovering truths through a proprietary toolkit and innovative research approaches, Insights West helps organizations make better decisions.
About Pacific Blue Cross
Pacific Blue Cross is a Health Benefits Society and British Columbia’s number one health benefits provider. Based in Burnaby, BC, the not-for-profit organization provides health, dental, life, disability and travel coverage for 1 in 3 British Columbians through group benefits and individual plans. As part of its mission to improve health and wellbeing for British Columbians, Pacific Blue Cross proactively supports charitable organizations across the province working to improve health outcomes.
About this Release:
Results are based on an online study conducted from January 20-25, 2021 among a sample of 815 BC residents. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.4 percentage points for BC residents, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies between totals are due to rounding. Click HERE to view the detailed data tabulations.
For further information, please contact:
Manager, Corporate Communications
Pacific Blue Cross