Preparing For A Winter With COVID-19

Add in the shorter days and cold weather and psychologists have greater cause to worry about the mental health of Canadians during what some experts are calling an impending “long, dark winter” of rising COVID-19 cases and tightened restrictions.

Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, said anxiety has been the dominant mental health issue of the pandemic so far, with countless people worried about their health and job security and the uncertainty of when life will return to normal.

But there's danger, he said, if COVID anxiety turns into COVID depression over the winter — especially with case numbers rising after a period of relative control over the summer.

"When we saw that everything we were doing was having an effect and the numbers were dropping, that empowered us. It made us feel like we're beating this thing," Joordens said.

"And that is great until the numbers start to go up and we start hearing that more restrictions are going to be in place and ... we might start to feel like everything we did didn't matter. It came back anyway."

Joordens fears depression will replace COVID anxiety if individuals start thinking that way, displaying what's known in psychology as learned helplessness.

He said anxiety, which can be debilitating at times and have negative implications on the immune system, can often be self-managed. Depression, however, is a "far, far more dangerous state of mind."

"It requires a much quicker step towards getting somebody that really knows what they're doing to help," Joordens said. "So if we're heading into winter with less sunshine, less ability to get social interaction, less opportunity for aerobic activity, less job security for some ... I worry we might see depression rates increase.

"It does feel like we're heading into a long, dark winter."

Noreen Sibanda, a registered provisional psychologist in Edmonton, said restrictions on social gatherings can negatively impact peoples' mental health by taking away support systems and interactions they may not have even realized they needed.

She said it's important for people to keep the routine of communication going with their friends and family, just in a modified way this winter.