Those of us with weak social connections are at increased risk for anxiety and depression. Even before Canadians began dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and increased social isolation, loneliness had been labelled a public health concern. Loneliness and social isolation can cause all sorts of health issues, but connection with others not only helps us feel good – it’s good for our mental health.
Importance of connection
From April to May 2020, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Alberta Division, conducted a survey to understand the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health and wellbeing across both rural and urban areas in our province. Over half of respondents (57 per cent) stated that staying connected has helped their mental health during the pandemic. However, the results also showed many of us were struggling with isolation and lack of access to mental health services.
Barriers to connection
Connection for those who already have less access to social supports is particularly important, with 44 per cent of rural Albertans reporting that a lack of socialization throughout the pandemic had become a mental health challenge.
Further CMHA studies conducted throughout the second wave have shown that mental health decline has become more pronounced in those who are unemployed, those with a pre-existing mental health issue, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ2S+ individuals and those with a disability. The pandemic has been especially difficult on marginalized populations, which has underlined the need for added mental health funding and supports in consultation with these communities.
Reducing stigma and increasing openness
Approximately 1.6 million Canadians per year experience unmet mental health needs. Many Canadians do not access resources or services to support their mental health and well-being due to barriers such as stigma, lack of programs, geographic location, lack of information and lengthy wait times. With increased government focus and mental health funding, our province would see more accessible care for every Albertan.
We rely on connection to thrive. CMHA is built on the knowledge that mental health is enhanced by a sense of belonging, community and connection. It is one of our fundamental needs and it is programmed into our very human “operating system.” We are wired to connect. (CMHA, 2019)
Studies consistently show the benefits of openness and vulnerability. Peer support, either formal or informal, provides people with community and encourages healing and guidance. To hear others say “I have been there” or “I understand what you are going through” is validating and reassuring. Every Albertan is dealing with the shared reality of COVID-19. Now is the time for workplace leaders and parents to begin the process of eliminating judgement and stigma during mental health discussions.
There is no health without mental health
The recent federal budget addresses some funding challenges, with investments of $994.6M into mental health care and shoring up of vital social supports that will put good mental health within closer reach for more people. These investments include targeted investments in Indigenous mental health, measures to curb the opioid crisis and problematic substance use and programs to cope with COVID-19 related trauma, as well as national mental health care standards. A mentally healthy population is key to our country’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
While CMHA applauds this much-needed support, we underline that our mental health system has seen decades of chronic underfunding. The current system in Canada is based on responding to crisis, and to meeting the acute care needs of people with severe mental illness. Earlier access to services at the community level can prevent individuals from needing more cost- and time-intensive interventions down the road. (CMHA, 2021)
You can read CMHA’s full response to the federal budget here.
How you can take action
Reach out to your local MLA and ask for comprehensive and inclusive community-level mental health programs and services to be a priority as we continue to face COVID-19 in every corner of our province.
CMHA, Alberta Division’s mental health programs
CMHA, Alberta Division advocates for and provides free mental health resources across Alberta. Community-based and grassroots-run programming is essential to mental health and wellbeing in our province. We encourage you to access these services for yourself or your loved ones:
- Free virtual mental health resources with BounceBack and Recovery College
- In-person and virtual community-based peer support for military and first responders through OSI-CAN
- In-person and virtual support groups in rural and remote communities through the Rural Mental Health Project
- Community conversation and inclusivity support on campuses with Healthy Campus Alberta
- Integrated Youth Hubs are youth-friendly environments that provide innovative and coordinated access to care
- Alberta Recovery Colleges offer a range and variety of recovery-focused courses designed for individuals, families, the workplace, and cultural and spiritual communities
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at
Canadian Mental Health Association. (2019). Stronger Together, Impact Report 2019. [PDF]. Retrieved April, 2021, from:
Canadian Mental Health Association. (2021, April 20). The Canadian Mental Health Association Applauds Budget 2021 Investments in Mental Health. [Release]. Retrieved April, 2021, from: