A new report by the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training (NB-IRDT) reveals how New Brunswickers’ mental health has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team, led by principal investigator Dr. Sandra Magalhaes, from the UNB Fredericton department of sociology and the MSSU team in Fredericton, analyzed responses to an online survey asking New Brunswick residents to indicate the impact particular factors had on their health. The survey was carried out in August 2020 by Mental Health Research Canada and Pollara Strategic Insights.
The project identified how social factors, economic factors and recreational activities are impacting the mental health of New Brunswickers and how the pandemic has changed their frequency of engaging in negative behaviours, such as alcohol use, cannabis use and household conflict.
This type of local analysis is crucial, as each province is arguably having a unique experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even within these geographic regions, different groups of people—for example, older and younger people, frontline workers, those with previously diagnosed mental health conditions—are being impacted differently by the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health measures designed to contain it.
Key findings include:
- More than 40% of New Brunswickers reported negative mental health outcomes caused by the economic downturn. Youth (ages 18-39) were the most likely group to have their mental health negatively impacted by the possibility of losing their job, pay or hours and being unable to pay their household bills.
- The possibility of a family member catching COVID-19 was more likely to negatively impact mental health than the possibility of catching it themselves. Frontline workers and those with previously diagnosed mental health conditions were among the groups most likely to have negative mental health impacts caused by the risk of infection in a family member.
- Social isolation was also a common factor impacting negative mental health in NB, and slightly more so for seniors, families, young adults and single-person households. Communicating with members outside their household by phone, video chats, etc. impacted seniors’ mental health more negatively than positively.
- While overall New Brunswickers reported much lower increases in use of alcohol (20% vs. 27%) and cannabis (10% vs. 29%) than the Canadian average. Young adults (32%) were above the national average for alcohol use and front-line workers (25%) had similar levels to the rest of Canada. Young adults were also the sub-group reporting highest increases in cannabis use (19%).
“As there is increasing concern about how our community’s mental health has been impacted while we all do our best to adapt to the rapidly changing course of the pandemic, research such as ours in needed to provide insights into the unique experiences of New Brunswickers,” says Dr. Magalhaes.
The report’s analysis of the responses to the survey may help guide planning and allocation of resources to help identify groups at risk and factors increasing risk which can support the province in rebuilding most effectively in the months to come.
In the media:
- Shift – NB with Vanessa Vander Valk, CBC Radio (April 14, 2021)