WHO’s World Mental Health Day: How COVID-19 is changing worldwide mental health?

My grandpa unexpectedly died last week. He was living in a residential facility in the lower mainland due to his health and increasing difficulties with dementia-type symptoms. Due to (well-founded) concerns regarding the virility of covid-19, I had not been able to visit with him or hug him since before the virus started circulating in March. Even in death, I found myself visiting his body alone and wearing a full gown, gloves, a mask, and eye protection. There could be no risk of the virus passing onto his previous co-residents. If death wasn’t sobering enough, the experiential contrast from previous death rituals I’d attended was stark.

While I didn’t lose my grandfather to covid-19 directly, the indirect effects contributed to both his death and now to our family’s grieving. I knew he was lonely and missed us bringing in outside food- food is the love language in my family. I knew that loneliness contributes greatly to increasing dementia symptoms (Lara et al., 2019; Sutin, Stephan, Luchetti, & Terracciano, 2020). I knew that his confusion about why we couldn’t visit him made him feel even more lonely and abandoned. I also knew that the nurses and aides who had been managing their own anxieties regarding virus transmission were becoming more burnt out by the day. They were trying their hardest but in the end, they were exhausted.

Not only has the pandemic affected how our vulnerable populations live but it has transformed everyday life for most of us. I find it’s easier to feel overwhelmed now and my reactions to being overwhelmed are different than they were pre-March 2020. For instance, I used to juggle a lot of projects all at once, flitting between each one and able to focus for long periods of time. I might get tired or irritated occasionally but a quick redirect and I was back to work. I’m now finding that the smallest change in plans or the addition of “one more thing” sends me into a freeze response. My brain shuts down. I can’t remember anything else. When I come to, I realise that I’ve been staring into nothing for 20 minutes. This would be fine if I were in a position where I could space out and there’d be no consequences but as a graduate student, it’s a problem. I have a pile of work to do and no one else to take anything over. In these moments when I start to feel like the worst grad student ever, I have to take time to think about my context of living through a significant worldwide pandemic and that I’m not alone in this reaction (If you’re doing well, I’m genuinely happy for you!).

The World Health Organization marks World Mental Health Day on October 10th and it’s timely theme is mental health effects due to Covid-19. It is a call to scale up investment in our mental health systems because we are facing unprecedented levels of distress. There’s a couple of examples in my own vignettes above: grief and loss, loneliness, burnout, and anxiety. People have been impacted in many ways by the pandemic and it has influenced their overall mental health. We have good data to suggest that overall mental health difficulties are on the rise and in particular, depression and anxiety (Pfeffenbaum & North, 2020; Torales, O’Higgins, Castaldelli-Maia, & Ventriglio, 2020). Physical distancing has left many feeling lonely and isolated (Galea, Merchant, & Lurie, 2020). Occupational burnout felt by essential and healthcare workers is extremely high right now (Azoulay et al., 2020; Wu et al., 2020). And I personally know several parents losing their mind while trying to juggle childcare and working from home (Brown, Doom, Lechuga-Peña, Watamura, & Koppels, 2020; Patrick et al., 2020). The need for services and counsellors is growing in order to meet the needs of an overwhelmed planet.

While the above all seems extremely gloomy, I take solace in knowing that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. In the end, many others are staggering through this pandemic just like me, grasping for whatever comfort they can. As a fellow student, I want to tell you that if you’re having a tough time, you’re not alone! For me, I know that my knowledge and abilities as a developing clinician will soon be needed. Counsellors will be needed to process this overwhelming event and therefore, you will be needed, too. Maybe there is comfort to be taken in knowing that your current training will help someone else through their grief, anxiety, or depression brought on by such a worldwide event? Taking good care of yourself now is crucial to making it to the next helping step and beyond.

In our next blog post, the CPSA team will be talking about some of our own favourite self-care tips. We’ll be asking for yours, too.

If you want more information on the WHO’s work and expertise related to covid-19, you can visit: https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/world-mental-health-day-2020

Here is a list of UBC resources related to covid-19: https://covid19.ubc.ca/resources/

Photo Credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski via unsplash.com

Azoulay, E., De Waele, J., Ferrer, R., Staudinger, T., Borkowska, M., Povoa, P., … & Pellegrini, M. (2020). Symptoms of burnout in intensive care unit specialists facing the COVID-19 outbreak. Annals of intensive care, 10(1), 1-8.
Brown, S. M., Doom, J. R., Lechuga-Peña, S., Watamura, S. E., & Koppels, T. (2020). Stress and parenting during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Child abuse & neglect, 104699.
Galea, S., Merchant, R. M., & Lurie, N. (2020). The mental health consequences of COVID-19 and physical distancing: The need for prevention and early intervention. JAMA internal medicine, 180(6), 817-818.
Lara, E., Martín-María, N., De la Torre-Luque, A., Koyanagi, A., Vancampfort, D., Izquierdo, A., & Miret, M. (2019). Does loneliness contribute to mild cognitive impairment and dementia? A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Ageing research reviews, 52, 7-16.
Patrick, S. W., Henkhaus, L. E., Zickafoose, J. S., Lovell, K., Halvorson, A., Loch, S., … & Davis, M. M. (2020). Well-being of parents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national survey. Pediatrics, 146(4).
Pfefferbaum, B., & North, C. S. (2020). Mental health and the Covid-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine.
Sutin, A. R., Stephan, Y., Luchetti, M., & Terracciano, A. (2020). Loneliness and risk of dementia. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75(7), 1414-1422.
Torales, J., O’Higgins, M., Castaldelli-Maia, J. M., & Ventriglio, A. (2020). The outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus and its impact on global mental health. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 0020764020915212.
Wu, Y., Wang, J., Luo, C., Hu, S., Lin, X., Anderson, A. E., … & Qian, Y. (2020). A comparison of burnout frequency among oncology physicians and nurses working on the front lines and usual wards during the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, China. Journal of pain and symptom management.

Member of the Month: Kelly Lyons

CPSA Member: Kelly Lyons

Graduate Program: UBC Counselling Psychology MA

Year: Second

Pronouns: She/her/hers

What drew you to studying counselling psychology?

In my previous position of coach and sessional instructor, I felt burdened by my lack of knowledge around how to support myself while supporting others, being able to listen and empathize without feeling the need to help everyone and fix everything. I chose counselling psychology because I believed that there was more that I could do to support others. There is, and will always be, more that I can learn to put myself in the best position to support others.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Often I’ve felt like my accomplishments were accidents or part of a team effort and were not truly mine. Recently I was selected to receive the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS-M scholarship to complete my master’s thesis research. When I received the news in April, shortly after we all went into lockdown, I felt like someone, somewhere had made a mistake. Getting into this program is one of the acheivements I am most proud of. Being selected for a scholarship of this magnitude helped me to start believing that I’ve done the work that demonstrates my being here is not a mistake. I still know it has been a team effort with everyone that has supported me in the past as we do not work in vacuums, although that might be the next step against COVID.

As you look ahead, what are you career goals?

1. Acquire my Canadian Counselling Certification
2. Apply for the PhD program here at UBC to continue my research on coach-athlete relationships and the impact on mental health and work towards licensing
3. Join the road of academia with the optimism of someday receiving tenure
4. Finally, the big hairy goal of being a sport psychologist at the Olympics

Who are your therapist heroes? Who inspires you?  

Okay, this is going to sound cheesy, but honestly, I love learning from my classmates. I love seeing people battling through becoming more self-aware in the search to help others. It’s really inspiring to be around everyone here and I am so grateful to get to be a part of this journey.

Orange Shirt Day: September 30th

Orange Shirt Day

Every September 30th in Canada, we mark Orange Shirt Day, an initiative that began in 2013. On this day, we honour Phyllis Webstad and over 150,000 children who experienced the trauma of attending government-sanctioned residential schools. Phyllis was taken to St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia back in 1973; she was only six-years-old. When Phyllis arrived at the residential school wearing an orange shirt, she was forced to take it off to replace it with the school’s institutional uniform. Orange Shirt Day is a collective commitment to honour these children who were “collected” around September 30th to attend residential schools where they were exposed to abuse, neglect, systemic and overt racism, and separation from their loved ones and culture. 

The main goals of Orange Shirt Day include supporting Indian Residential School reconciliation, to witness and honour the healing journey of survivors and families, to commit to the ongoing process of truth and reconciliation, and to create awareness of the individual, familial, and communal intergenerational impacts of the residential school system in Canada. To honour Orange Shirt Day, the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre has developed a website where we can find more about the origins of Orange Shirt Day, along with relevant resources. 

Some of the resources that can be found on the website mentioned above include:

Additional resources include:

 Do you have resources that you would like to share with us? E-mail us at cpsaubc@gmail.com.

Computer Keyboard

New Ways of Arriving: Counselling in an Online Context

Telehealth counselling, remote counselling, video sessions – before this year, I had never wanted to specialize in electronic therapy formats.

There’s a scene in the film Star Trek: First Contact, where the medical officer Dr. Beverly Crusher says, “I swore I would never use one of these,” and then activates a holographic doctor to help when an infestation of robot-zombies, called the Borg, are determined to infect the ship.

I was not as extreme as Dr. Crusher – I never swore off electronic counselling formats – but almost. Now, I can’t imagine my private practice without them. These formats allow me to connect with clients who might not otherwise be able to access counselling services. They enable clients to explore session content in their own homes, where they also might put the insights and tools they gain in session into practice.

But I’ve been reflecting on the journey to the counselling office. The actual physical act of going there. I miss it. I wonder if my clients miss it, too?

Each workday, I would walk over to my office, climb three flights of stairs, unlock the front door, turn on the lamps and radio in the waiting room, and settle into my office chair for sessions. At the end of each workday, I would do the same thing in reverse, a coming-and-going ritual that I took for granted until it was gone.

Before and after each in-person session, my clients would also move through a ritual. Some might walk to the office, or ride their bike, or take the bus, but arriving and leaving a counselling session was a journey rather than a single act – not just turning on a laptop, picking up the phone, or waking up a tablet.

On my journey to the counselling office, I would settle my mind on my work for the day, or let myself focus on the world I was moving through, centring and focusing. Of course, I’m romanticizing – sometimes, I was utterly distracted or running late, and the trip was hectic. On my journey from the counselling office, I would partially process the day’s work through movement. Again, I’m romanticizing, but the point is, some days, going to and from the office supported my work. And now that support is missing.

For clients, the trip to a specific space where they engage in counselling may also promote focus, and clients may very well process the content of their session partially on their journey home. What is more, the movement to and from the counselling office provided a physical representation of a border, a boundary between therapy work and the rest of our lives that permitted us to leave the work in the counselling space between appointments. I believe such a border is essential.

So I’ve been trying to move at the start and the end of my counselling days. And I’ve been encouraging my clients to do the same. We may not be making the journey to and from the therapy room, but we can still create movement-based rituals that mark arriving at and leaving the electronic therapy hour. I walk around the block; I go for a run; I dance to my favourite song on repeat.

The holographic doctor that Beverly Crusher activates in First Contact proves indispensable, giving her and her patients enough time to escape the robo-plague. Electronic therapy is how I’ve conducted the majority of my counselling sessions this year, and has become crucial to my private practice.

But the need remains for movement – rituals of coming and going from the therapy room. These rituals extend counselling beyond the therapy hour, providing a liminal space to process, and, if need be, to partition the work until we can return to it.

Author headshot


Chris Cook is a second-year counselling psychology Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia. A therapist and a playwright, Chris runs a private practice in Vancouver, BC and – now – online, and loves Star Trek.


“Computer Keyboard” by Ian Britton is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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