When COVID-19 struck in 2020, 16-year-old Lexi Daken’s routine changed.
“She was active in sports and enjoyed going to school … but that has changed,” her father Chris Daken told Global News on Wednesday.
“When COVID-19 struck, she was at home, isolated and not getting that social interaction as much.”
Lexi, a 10th grade student, spent eight hours at Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, NB, where she was evaluated by a psychologist after a counselor noticed mental health issues.
According to her family, she eventually left the hospital without receiving immediate help. She committed suicide less than a week later.
Daken said the mental impact of lockdown due to COVID-19 is “definitely part of the outcome”.
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Researchers from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) found that the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among adults was significantly higher in 2021 than it was in 2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak.
The incidence of suicidal thoughts among adults in 2021 was 4.2 percent, which was “significantly higher” than 2.7 percent in 2019 before the pandemic, according to results released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday.
Researchers measured the increase using the 2021 COVID-19 and Mental Health Survey, conducted between February 1 and May 7, 2021.
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“Unfortunately, this information does not come as a surprise to us. We’ve done similar research in collaboration with the University of British Columbia and the data is definitely consistent,” said Sarah Kennell, the national director of public policy at the National Office of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“And what we’re seeing is really the impact of the ongoing stress and anxiety associated with a pandemic that’s been going on for over two years,” she added.
According to the Statistics Canada report, a significant increase in the prevalence of suicidal ideation has been observed among women and men, age groups under 65, Canadian-born, those with less education, or those who have never married.
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“Suicidal thoughts are a feeling or desire to harm yourself,” Kennell said. “There are also negative emotions associated with stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness and loneliness.”
Kennel said while the report shows a significant increase, it’s too early to tell if suicide rates are increasing in Canada.
“This data is collected annually by Statistics Canada and we only have data going back to 2020 at this time. And this research tells us that the rates are consistent. But as we know, 2020 was still the early days of the pandemic,” she said.
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A previous study in Canada using data from the first round of the Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health (SCMH) found that the prevalence of suicidal ideation among adults in the fall of 2020 was not significantly different from before the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.
However, it did show the increased prevalence among young adults, people born in Canada, those with lower educational levels or household incomes, frontline workers, and people experiencing pandemic-related loss of income or loneliness.
“We are seeing a further increase in suicidal thoughts in late 2021 and into 2022 given the surveys that many organizations have been conducting across Canada,” Kennel said.
She said it is the loss of social connection as a result of lockdown measures that has taken a toll on people’s mental health.
“It would certainly justify why we’re seeing this kind of sustained aggravation of our mental health deterioration and really portray the negative side of the chronicity and the ongoing nature of this pandemic,” Kennel said.
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Researchers said this evidence of an increase in suicidal ideation could serve as an early sign of other unknown possible mental health implications and suicidality.
“As the pandemic continues, continuous monitoring of the suicide-related outcomes and assessment of the relationship between the impact of COVID-19 and suicidal tendencies are required so that changes at the population level can be quickly identified and public health measures taken,” it said in the study.
Daken said he knows Lexi has struggled to get the help she needs, but said the help is there for the people who want it.
“It’s not always an easy task to get help,” he said. “But children, and even adults, need to know that help is there if they are to seek it.”
When you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In an emergency, please call 911 for immediate assistance.
For a directory of support services near you, go to Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
Learn more about how you can help someone in crisis on the Canadian government website.
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