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Isolation, Loneliness, and COVID-19: Pandemic leads to sharp increase in mental health challenges, social woes

As COVID-19 cases surge and public health officials plead with Canadians to stay home and minimize their contact with others whenever possible, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute sheds light on the monumental shift in social behaviours in Canada this year and the corresponding effects it has had.

The unprecedented drop in community activity, from volunteering, to attending live concerts, to visiting local community centres and hubs, has taken its toll on Canadians. The percentage of those saying they have a good social life has dropped from more than half in 2019 (55%) to just one-in-three (33%) this year.

This study, as with its predecessor in May of last year, sorts Canadians along two key dimensions: social isolation (or the number and frequency of interpersonal connections a person has) and loneliness (or their relative satisfaction with the quality of those connections), to recreate our Index on Loneliness and Social Isolation (ISLI). This year, the percentage of Canadians who can be categorized as The Desolate, those who suffer from both loneliness and social isolation, has increased from 23 per cent of the population to 33 per cent. Further, the percentage suffering from neither has dropped by nearly half, from 22 per cent to 12 per cent.

As Canadians have become more isolated, many are voicing concerns about their mental health. Last year, two-thirds (67%) said their mental health was good or very good; this year just 53 per cent say the same. One-in-five (19%) now share that their mental health is either poor or very poor, with three-in-ten young women (30%) reporting this.

More Key Findings:

  • Canadians relationships with their family members have remained a source of comfort and largely positive. Half of married respondents (51%) say their relationship with their spouse is still very good, down from 57 per cent last year.
  • The number of residents over 54 years of age who say they would rather see more of people has nearly doubled, from 18 per cent last year to 33 per cent. On the other end of the spectrum, those in the 35 to 54 age group are most likely to say they wish the had more alone time (34%).
  • While some older Canadians are having a very difficult time with isolation and loneliness, they are also most likely to be within the Cherished and Moderately Connected groupings – those enduring the pandemic best. Two-in-five young men and women are among the Desolate and are experiencing considerable isolation and loneliness.
  • Many are using technology to stay connected and this is nowhere truer than with those 55 years of age and older. Among this group, usage of video calling apps has increased from 36 per cent to 55 per cent.
  • That said, Canadians using Zoom, FaceTime and other video calling apps are less enthusiastic about the experience this year than last. Just 47 per cent say it makes them feel more connected to friends and family, while 47 per cent say it’s simply better than nothing. Last year, 71 per cent chose the former, suggesting the increase in usage is reducing the quality of overall connection.

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