A research survey released on November 18, 2020 by Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) reveals that most British Columbians do not know where to access mental health services and have never accessed care for their mental health. A startling 2 in 3 are unaware of psychology and psychiatric services in their community, despite almost 4 in 10 (37%) reporting feeling anxious or depressed. The self-reported uptake of services was also low with only 15% seeking support from a counsellor, despite the fact mental health conditions are on the rise. Many cite costs (62%), not knowing where to go (50%) or lack of availability close to home (40%) as some of the biggest barriers.

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a large toll on both the mental and physical health of British Columbians, as the survey revealed almost three times more people (52%) reported poor mental health now, compared to before the start of the pandemic (19%). 4 in 10 (42%) reported that they are exercising less, and 3 in 10 (32%) reported having poorer quality sleep. Diet is also an issue as nearly a quarter (24%) answered they are not eating well, with a fifth (19%) stating they are consuming more alcohol.

The survey also investigated perceptions towards those with mental health in BC, with one third of respondents believing those with mental health conditions are a drain on the healthcare system, and one third experiencing or witnessing the marginalization of a person with a mental illness.

Speaking about the survey results, John Crawford, President and CEO of Pacific Blue Cross said, “These startling results reveal a seismic shift is required not only in our actions surrounding our collective and individual mental health, but also in our perceptions towards it. Coming into winter, we know mental health conditions rise; this year, we expect this trend to be exacerbated further by COVID-19. We encourage all BC business leaders to make employee mental health a top priority. Foster a culture of open and transparent dialogue about mental health to combat stigma and reduce fear and demonstrate your commitment through a thoughtful strategy and adequate supports and resources.”

Despite many being unaware of key services, the majority of British Columbians (66%) are aware of crisis lines and demand for this service continues to rise.

In response to the survey findings, Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation chose to assist ten crisis lines in rural and urban regions across BC, noting the demands on this essential frontline service are expected to rise as two thirds of us predict our mental health will deteriorate in coming months. The province’s leading benefits provider donated $100,000 to help the crisis lines serve British Columbians who need anonymous and low barrier care during a mental health crisis. “We are proud to support BC crisis lines to ensure services are available at any time, to anyone in need of a compassionate and empathetic voice. We know that those who engage early support through crisis lines, are less likely to require acute care later. With BC now facing its second wave of the pandemic, supporting our community and our health care system has never been more critical,” said Jim Iker, Chair of the Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation.

“This research offers a clear call to action to every British Columbian during this unprecedented time. Your friends, family, neighbours or co-workers may be struggling, and fears of stigma and marginalization may be impeding them from seeking professional support. Crisis lines offer a community “safety net”, playing a huge preventative role when people are in crisis and don’t know where to turn, particularly during a pandemic when we are reducing our social engagements,” said Sandra Boulianne, President, Board of Directors of the Crisis Line Association of BC and Executive Director, Crisis Centre for Northern BC.

“We would like to express our gratitude to the Health Foundation for supporting crisis lines across BC, which provided us much needed funding to answer the spike in calls we’re receiving,” continued Boulianne.

Since the pandemic hit, BC crisis lines have experienced an unprecedented 27% increase in their call volume, with many British Columbians seeking support for anxiety (47% increase), depression (40% increase) or loneliness or social isolation (24% increase). In the Vancouver Coastal region alone, between April and August a regional crisis line safely de-escalated 3,465 suicide-related calls using safety plans that avoided hospitalization, which saved an estimated $2.6 million in direct care costs to our health care system.

Reflecting the partnership between the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and Pacific Blue Cross, Pacific Blue Cross Health Foundation is particularly proud to support KUU-US Crisis Line Society, which operates a 24-hour crisis line available for Indigenous Peoples across the province.

About the research
This survey was conducted online by Insights West among 800 adult British Columbians across the province from September 16-24, 2020. An additional Indigenous/First Nations sample size of 350 was also collected. The associated margin of error was +/-3.0.

Images: (top and middle) iStockphoto; (bottom) vicrisis.ca website