Mental Health Week Promotes Social Connection

Survey suggests most Ontarians use shortcuts to describe their emotional state

The Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is promoting social connection to protect mental health in these difficult times.

According to new data released today by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in partnership with Maru/Matchbox, 77 per cent of those asked “how are you?” rely on “I’m fine, thanks” to express how they’re doing, despite the fact that Ontarians are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days (53% negative vs 47% positive). The numbers suggest most Ontarians rely on shortcuts to describe their emotional state.

The data was released to mark Canada’s 69th annual Mental Health Week, which runs May 4-10, 2020. Even though the pandemic has resulted in a surge of social media usage and video-conferencing, Canadians are feeling more isolated than ever (up 8 points from 39% to 47% in less than one month) and crave real, meaningful connections. In fact, two-thirds of Ontarians (66%) said they would like to experience more meaningful social interactions in their daily life.

“Most Canadians want more social connection, yet they’re reluctant to have the kind of honest, open conversations that build the connection they crave,” says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA. “In our society, it’s a cultural norm to ask people how they’re doing, but not to expect, nor provide, a truthful answer. This Mental Health Week, it’s time to get real about how we feel. It’s clear we need each other more than ever.”

Prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern. Studies have shown people with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour and suicide. And a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing family events and in-person activities and it appears they are feeling it. Almost half of Ontarians are feeling anxious (47%), and only eight per cent are feeling happy.

CMHA said strong social networks lead to better self-esteem, coping mechanisms and a sense of wellbeing, and reduce depression and distress by providing emotional support, companionship and opportunities for meaningful social engagement.

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