The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Alberta Division administered a survey between April and May, 2020 to understand the mental health and wellbeing impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Albertans across rural and urban areas. The survey results are intended to inform future mental health priorities and activities across the province. This report was prepared by the Rural Mental Health Project and describes the findings of the survey. The survey was adapted from MQ: Transforming Mental Health and the UK Academy of Medical Sciences’ consultation of stakeholders and the general population in the United Kingdom. 
CMHA administered the survey to Albertans electronically. The online survey was formatted to learn about Albertans’ COVID-19 concerns, mental health support availability and additional challenges or opportunities. Responses were collected between April 21 to May 21, 2020. CMHA, Alberta Division and the Rural Mental Health Project promoted the survey to their networks over email and social media channels.
The survey asked:
- What are your top two concerns or questions about the mental health and wellbeing aspect of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for you and your community
- We are keen to understand what people are doing to support their mental wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. What do you think has been helping your mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic? Please tell us about it.
- The pandemic has caused our lives to change in many ways due to physical distancing. As we transition into the next phases of this pandemic, what future challenge do you anticipate regarding mental health and mental illness over the next six months? What potential opportunities may emerge due to the changes we are experiencing?
In total, 1,740 people took part in the survey. Respondents were evenly dispersed between urban and rural areas, with 51.8 per cent of respondents residing in an urban centre, 47.7 per cent living in a rural area and 0.5 per cent living outside of Alberta.
Priority Concerns about Mental Health and Wellbeing
Respondents had a wide variety of concerns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most pressing concerns encompassed eight general themes: (1) Isolation, (2) Access to mental health support and services, (3) Challenges to mental health, (4) Anxiety, (5) Economic concerns, (6) Uncertainty about the future, (7) Family and relationships and (8) Education. The first three themes were the most prevalent concerns and were mentioned by at least 30 per cent of study respondents. Isolation was the top concern, mentioned by 42 per cent of respondents.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Supports
Results indicated that while the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant challenges, there is a broad range of coping mechanisms and supports to help individuals, families and communities manage throughout the pandemic. The most popular coping mechanisms and supports were summed up in eight general themes: (1) Staying connected, (2) Physical activity and health, (3) Self- Care, (4) Benefit of the outdoors and changing environments, (5) Maintaining routine, (6) Increased support and shared learning, (7) Information intake and (8) Acceptance of the situation. The first three themes were the most prevalent responses, and almost half of respondents said their coping mechanisms included staying connected, routines and self-care.
Future Challenges and Opportunities
Respondents had a wide variety of concerns as they faced an unknown future during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most pressing future concerns encompassed six general themes: (1) Ongoing, increased mental illness and mental health problems, (2) Human contact, (3) Fear and searching for a new normal, (4) Economic challenges, (5) COVID Concerns and (6) Mental health supports and resources. Of these six concerns, the first three were the most commonly cited and mentioned by almost one-third of the participants.
Respondents also shared their perspectives on what they anticipated would become future opportunities. These responses encompassed four main themes: (1) Social connectedness, (2) self-development, (3) Workplaces adapting to remote work and (4) Online service delivery. The first two themes were most commonly cited and mentioned by almost one-fifth of participants.
It is worth noting that, unsurprisingly, respondents who answered this question still reported that they experienced more concerns about the future (64 per cent) than opportunities. However, over one-third (36 per cent) of responses highlighted opportunities or potential positive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These results underscore the significant concerns the pandemic has placed on individuals and families in Alberta but also point to our population’s strength and resilience.
- 44% of rural Albertans report that a lack of socialization throughout the pandemic has become a mental health challenge.
- 57% of Albertans say staying connected with loved ones has helped their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
- Increased comfort with technology has facilitated more social connections for rural Albertans who may be otherwise isolated throughout the pandemic.
- 49% of Albertans say a focus on their physical activity and health has helped their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
- 42% of Albertans report isolation throughout the pandemic to be the top mental health concern for themselves and their community.