COVID-19 has contributed significantly to decline in physical and mental health.

River Walk in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
River Walk in Lisbon, Portugal. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Alberta Medical Association (AMA), as part of advocacy and engagement with the public has a website (albertapatients.ca) which is Canada’s largest online community for patients to share their thoughts.

AMA engages in dialogue with approximately 13,500 Albertans about health care issues. AMA’s latest survey, fielded May 19 to 27, 2021 asked about people’s worries and priorities regarding their health care. AMA received more than 4,700 responses.

AMA recently shared their findings with the members of the association. AMA says, “The results are sobering: lifestyle and livelihoods (for many) have shifted dramatically, contributing to a significant decline in physical and mental health.”

Here are the important points:

  • More than half of respondents (52 per cent) report that their physical health has declined since the start of the pandemic (15 per cent say their health is now much worse). This is up eight per cent since November 2020 and tends to be more prominent in those under the age of 54 years, and those who have a chronic medical condition. The top reasons cited for the decline in physical health are: harder to exercise, fear of going to a health care provider, and not socializing.
  • The impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health of Albertans is troubling. Sixty-four per cent of respondents report a decline in their own mental health since the start of the pandemic.
  • Twenty-three per cent say their mental health is much worse now. This is more common response among women than men, those under the age of 55, and those with a chronic medical condition.
  • Forty-seven per cent struggle with social isolation, while others cite concerns about finances and the security of their jobs, along with concerns for their own or their family’s health.
  • Only seven per cent of respondents say their mental health has improved since the pandemic began.
  • There is anxiety and depression due to care deficit on individuals who are waiting for treatment. Especially patients who are waiting for cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

The deterioration in mental and physical wellness that Albertans are reporting may be a prelude of what is to come. With significant financial deficit the government will have to find more money to play catch-up. As COVID-19 retreats, there will be no automatic reset to what was before the pandemic.

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ June 7, 2021 – Postpartum mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic) highlights the difficulties faced by women after child birth. In Ontario, visits for mental health conditions in the postpartum period increased markedly from March 2020.

The authors of the article observed increased use of nonacute care services for postpartum mental health in Ontario during the first few months of the pandemic, suggesting that self-reported mental distress has translated into increased help-seeking for postpartum people.

The authors of the article suggest health systems should focus proactively on patients from high-risk groups, monitor waiting lists for care, and explore creative solutions to expand system capacity, with special attention to postpartum patients who may be experiencing barriers to care. With the extensive use of virtual care, further evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of virtual treatment for postpartum mental illness should be sought.

As we can see the health care delivery has changed dramatically in the last year and a half. I doubt whether things will return to the old ways. Doctors will have to find creative ways to assess and treat patients.

Take care. Be safe. Don’t take unnecessary chances. The highly contagious Delta COVID-19 is likely to become dominant in Alberta. So, we have to be careful.

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