Nearly nine out of 10 family doctors across Canada are increasingly concerned about patients’ emotional stress related to COVID-19, a new survey suggests.

And some in Toronto warn of a mounting mental health crisis that will long outlast the pandemic.

In May, the College of Family Physicians of Canada surveyed 3,400 members about working through the pandemic. Because family doctors provide the vast majority of health care, their observations serve as a kind of barometer on how Canadians are doing and a “state of the union” on the system overall, said Steve Slade, the college’s research director.

The results, released last week, show 87 per cent are “highly concerned” about their patients’ mental health (compared to 80 per cent the year before) and 67 per cent are equally as concerned about their patients’ alcohol and drug use. 

Dr. Noah Ivers, who practises family medicine at the Women’s College Hospital, said many of his patients are struggling with loneliness and anxiety. 

“The amount and severity of mental health symptoms that I’m seeing in my practice day to day now is remarkable,” he said. 

“I try to support people through that day in and day out, as best I can. On the one hand, it’s a privilege to be there for them, especially when many don’t have other sources of support. On the other hand, it’s emotionally exhausting.” 

Mental health supports missing

The pandemic has gone on much longer than anyone anticipated, and has taken a disproportionate toll on those who are especially vulnerable, such as seniors, people who don’t have adequate housing and racialized communities, said Dr. Onye Nnorom, the president of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario and a member of the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity. 

Nnorom also sees patients for nicotine dependence as a consultant at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and talks to them about their alcohol or drug use. She’s noticed an increase in patients relying more on all three to cope with loneliness, boredom, stress and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. 

Dr. Onye Nnorom, the president of the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario, in Toronto on June 11, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“Many have argued that this is also a mental health pandemic,” …….


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