WINDSOR, ONT. -- As Windsor-Essex is set to move to the ‘orange-restrict’ level of public health restrictions in the face of rising COVID-19 cases, officials are urging residents to tap into mental health resources to cope with the stresses of the ongoing pandemic.

On Friday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens hosted a virtual roundtable on mental health to highlight resources and strategies to address mental health.

“COVID-19 certainly has impacted every aspect of our lives,” said Dilkens.

Gathered for the conversation were local leaders in the healthcare sector, including Janice Kaffer of Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Claudia den Boer of the Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex Branch, Joyce Zuk of Family Services Windsor-Essex and Karen Waddell of the House of Sophrosyne.

Den Boer noted a CMHA national study completed in September showed the COVID-19 pandemic had a marked effect on the mental health of Canadians.

According to the study, 38 per cent of Canadians said their mental health had declined due to the pandemic, 46 per cent are anxious and worried while 14 per cent are having trouble coping.

Another CMHA study in April found 47 per cent of healthcare workers felt they needed mental health support.

“Clearly, the pandemic has impacted that sense of well-being,” said den Boer.

Despite the figures — which the CMHA describes as “staggering” — phones for mental health services in the region are not ringing off the hook according to Kaffer.

“The number of calls that [Hotel-Dieu Grace has] been getting are down and I think it reflects the fact that people are a little bit nervous about calling in,” said Kaffer. “They think that their issue maybe isn’t significant enough and maybe someone will judge them.”

From Hotel-Dieu Grace’s Mental Health Wellness and Addiction Centre to the Windsor-Essex Counselling Support Line, there are local resources for those in need.

Some counselling services have moved online to adhere to pandemic-induced public health measures while CMHA has held regular webinars offering mental health advice and guidance.

Zuk noted a system of care is being developed to help those with just a call.

“Don’t worry if you don’t call the right number. That’s our job to help you navigate through the system and get you to the right place,” said Zuk.

Den Boer adds journaling and speaking to a trusted friend or loved one, even speaking aloud alone, can help. She also points to online self-assessment tools like the one offered by CMHA as a good first step for those not ready to pick up the phone.

“It’ll maybe give you a better sense of, ‘you know what? I think maybe this is something where I need to reach out,’” Den Boer said.

As the pandemic drags on and those in Windsor-Essex face many more months of public health restrictions, Zuk recommends planning to stay connected while apart can be an important strategy to protecting mental health.

The 24/7 Windsor-Essex Counselling Help Line can be reached at 519-946-3277 or 1-877-451-1055.

Other recommendations stemming from the virtual roundtable include:

  • Check-in on loved ones and friends;
  • If you are a parent, guardian or caretaker, take note to monitor your own condition as well as the condition of those in your care;
  • Establish healthy patterns and focus on activities that bring you happiness;
  • Create a “winter checklist” of local activities, and even household chores, that require your attention;
  • Take small daily actions, such as a family walk after dinner, regardless of temperature, to remain active;
  • Plan short and frequent phone calls or video chats with friends and family;
  • Plan for post-pandemic life, for example, planning what your next trip or holiday might be after this crisis has passed
  • Seek out advice from experts if you are feeling symptoms of depression, anxiety or hopelessness.