March 1, 2021, TORONTO, ON― More than half of Ontarians (53%) recently surveyed about the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health say it was very good or excellent prior to the start of the pandemic. A year later, two-thirds (64%) report that the pandemic has led them to be more resilient, while about half (45%) report COVID-19 has caused a negative shift in their mental health that will be long lasting. Of particular concern, younger Ontarians (those under the age of 35) and those who already stated their mental health was poor are significantly more likely to have seen a downward shift in their mental health because of the pandemic. The Leger poll of 1,000 Ontarians ages 18 and older, conducted on behalf of the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) released today, also uncovered attitudes related to mental health and respondents’ perceived barriers and willingness to access mental health care, including virtual and in person supports. The release of these findings marks the start of Social Work Week (March 1-7) across the province.
“While social work supports are individualized considering a person’s unique environment and context, it’s vital we uncover the major trends if we’re going to be successful at addressing the depth and severity of the mental health challenges facing the province,” says Dr. Deepy Sur, Chief Executive Officer, OASW. “As the largest regulated provider of psychotherapy services in the province, social workers are vital to helping navigate Ontario’s path forward out of this historic crisis.”
Six-in-ten say they will be able to bounce back from these challenging times, especially older Ontarians (those over the age of 35). Just over half (52%) say they would bounce back more quickly if they had access to regular mental health support and four-in-ten (39%) say they have considered getting mental health support in the past year. Although those under the age of 35 are more likely to be struggling with their mental health, on a positive note, this group is significantly more likely to feel they could bounce back faster if they had access to regular mental health support. In addition, this group has considered getting such support and agree that mental health support is a vital part of their health.
Over one-third (37%) of the respondents say they would access mental health support through virtual counselling. Further, 74% say providing mental health supports virtually is a great way to speed up and improve access. Whereas 23% say they would only seek support in person.
Nearly half of the Ontarians surveyed (44%) say they would consider seeking support from a social worker. Respondents cited cost as the prime factor preventing them from getting mental health support, more than twice the barrier than those related to a lack of familiarity with how to access supports. Additionally, those that rate their mental health as ‘bad’, are significantly less likely to say they are aware of how to access mental health support, compared to those who rate their mental health as better.
“In time mental health access and deployment will overtake headlines on vaccine access and deployment. We can’t let an individual’s financial situation dictate their access to mental health care and ability to bounce back,” Dr. Sur adds. “We’re looking out ahead and leaning on our expertise in the system, understanding of the complexity of mental health today and the requirement to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Ontarians. With 6,500 OASW members in every niche of society, we have a unique vantage point.”
Social workers have been essential on the front lines across many settings and within acute and long-term care, supporting their healthcare colleagues facing unprecedented levels of stress and burnout, and families facing heartbreaking loss. During Social Work Week, 20,000 Registered Social Workers (RSWs) practising in Ontario, including over 6,500 members of OASW, will embark on a “You Are Not Alone” campaign raising awareness of the increased needs for mental health support for the individuals they serve and some of those whose needs are compounded by the effects of the opioid crisis, victims of human trafficking, and so many other emergency situations, many made worse by the pandemic.
OASW works to promote access to social workers through government supports, private insurance plans to help Ontarians who may struggle to get the supports and help they need as part of the province’s comprehensive Roadmap to Wellness. The Association led a rapid response with the first lockdown in March 2020 to ensure social workers' ability to respond to the need for virtual counselling. Information on working with a social worker and on virtual counselling can be found at oasw.org.
OASW is the voice of social work in Ontario. It is a voluntary, bilingual, non-profit association representing approximately 6,500 social workers. All members have a university degree in social work at the bachelor, master, or doctoral level. OASW works to actively speak on behalf of social workers on issues of interest to the profession and advocates for the improvement of social policies and programs directly affecting social work practice and client groups served.
About the Leger Survey
An online survey of 1001 Ontario residents was completed between February 12-14, 2021, using Leger’s online panel.
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