‘Unintended consequences’: Manitoba health officials say restrictions are taking a toll on mental health

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s top doctor along with other health officials say they recognize code red restrictions are taking a toll on Manitobans’ mental health.

Dr. Andrea Piotrowski, a clinical psychologist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said the number of people reporting anxiety has nearly quadrupled since COVID-19 first hit, and the number of people who have reported depression has nearly doubled.

“We are seeing an impact on people’s mental health,” Piotrowski said during Manitoba’s weekly COVID-19 telephone town hall.

It’s been nearly two weeks since Manitoba was placed under widespread restrictions limiting gatherings, and closing dine-in restaurants and other social gathering areas.

RESTRICTIONS HAVING ‘UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES’ ON MENTAL HEALTH

“With the public health orders, we do recognize that we are causing issues, we are causing increased mental health issues for some individuals in relation to limiting social interaction,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, a provincial medical officer of health, said on Wednesday.

“We want people to get outside and exercise, but we do recognize that with these restrictions come some unintended consequences and we definitely do want to mitigate or reduce the issues related to those changes in people’s lives.”

Piotrowski said parents should be speaking with their children to ensure they understand what is going on and why there are restrictions in place. She said this conversation will look different depending on the developmental age of the child.

She said Manitobans should stay connected and make the most out of the lockdown by challenging themselves to do new activities.

“The more that we can develop mastery and accomplishment and seeing the products of some of these new activities that we are doing we actually end up feeling better,” she said.

MANITOBA WILL SEE PEAKS AND VALLEYS

Piotrowski said there is a lot of uncertainty of how long the current restrictions will last, let alone how long the pandemic will last.

“We know that when people are uncertain, that actually fuels our anxiety because we feel that things are out of control,” she said. “So it is good to take a step back and say, ‘just because I can’t control what is happening with the pandemic, there is a lot in my life that I can control’.”

She said people should ask themselves what they can do personally to ensure their own safety and the safety of others.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said as the province moves into the winter months there will be peaks and valleys when it comes to COVID-19.

“We can’t keep these restrictions on forever. As we loosen the restrictions it is very likely we will see the cases rise again,” Roussin said.

“For the foreseeable future we are going to be dealing with this virus in one way or another, knowing that there will be an end – every pandemic does have an end.”

People struggling with mental health can find more resources and supports by visiting the Province of Manitoba website.  

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