Social isolation is taking a toll on our mental well being.

That’s the findings of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which is marking Mental Health Week across the country.

The association says that due to physical distancing measures, people are isolated in their homes, missing out on family events and in-person activities and it appears they’re feeling it. 

It found that half of Canadians are feeling isolated (47 percent) and anxious (45 percent), and only nine per cent are feeling happy. 

It also notes that prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major public health concern, adding that people with weak or few social connections are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, anti-social behaviour, and suicide.

The association points out that a lack of strong relationships has the same negative impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

According to new data released by the 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 Canadians are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days (63 percent negative vs. 37 percent positive).

Despite a pandemic-driven growth in video-conferencing and social media usage, Canadians are feeling more isolated than ever (up eight points from 39 percent to 47 percent in less than one month) and crave real, meaningful connections. 

In fact, two thirds of Canadians (67 percent) report 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.”

The focus of this year’s Mental Health Week is to promote social connection and the role it plays in good mental health. To get involved, you can:

  • Learn more about your mental health and how to feel close even when we can’t be at mentalhealthweek.ca/yourmentalhealth
  • Share your support on social media by downloading a toolkit at mentalhealthweek.ca/toolkit and using hashtags #GetReal #MentalHealthWeek and #TogetherApart
  • Donate to support CMHA mental health programs and services at cmha.ca/donate
  • If you or someone you love is struggling, please contact your local CMHA to find out about virtual and phone-based support services there to help you. Or, visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal. If you are in crisis, please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada.

Canada’s 69th Mental Health Week runs May 4th to 10th.