Research shows COVID-19 took toll on mental health of rural Ontario residents

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No one enjoyed being a part of the COVID-19 pandemic, but new research shows it hit people hard in Huron and Perth County.

“Our research is very telling. I mean, it’s not surprising. We’ve seen mental health issues have increased, substance use has increased. People are struggling,” says Grace Bonnett, from the Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health.

New research unveiled Thursday in Mitchell, and commissioned by Huron County’s Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health, shows the toll COVID-19 played on people’s mental health.

Of 3,600 respondents interviewed before and since the pandemic’s arrival, there was a 79 per cent increase in the number of people rating their mental health as “poor.”

Findings from research into mental health in Huron and Perth counties, pre and post COVID, by Gateway Centre for Excellence in Rural Health. (Courtesy: Leith Deacon and Sampoorna Bhattancaryn and Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health)

Findings from research into mental health in Huron and Perth counties, pre and post COVID, by Gateway Centre for Excellence in Rural Health. (Courtesy: Leith Deacon and Sampoorna Bhattancaryn and Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health)

Findings from research into mental health in Huron and Perth counties, pre and post COVID, by Gateway Centre for Excellence in Rural Health. (Courtesy: Leith Deacon and Sampoorna Bhattancaryn and Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health)

Young men seemed to take it the hardest, reporting a 100 per cent increase of 18-29 year olds rating their mental health as “poor.” Men earning less than $50,000 saw a 92 per cent increase in the number of participants rating their mental health as “poor.”

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for males in rural spaces, and there is this long standing attitude, as a male especially, to grin and bear it. Don’t cry. Well, that’s sort of ridiculous,” says the study’s lead researcher, University of Guelph associate professor in rural planning and development, Leith Deacon.

And although there were more mental health resources available during the pandemic, few people knew how or where to go for help.

“The reality is people do not know where to go for support for mental health, unless they’ve already accessed the system,” says Deacon.

“You almost had to know somebody who was working in mental health and wellness, to get in,” says Casandra Bryant, PhD researcher with the University of Guelph, who helped in research for the report.

At today’s Solutions Conference, presenting the mental health research report, there was a recommendation to find mental health system navigators, or wellness experts, to help.

“Our goal for this project is to not let this research sit on a shelf. We want to take this and act on it, and do something with it,” says Bonnett.

To learn more, you can visit www.gatewayruralhealth.ca information sheets from the research project are also available here.

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