Mental health needs heighten during pandemic

Isolation. Loneliness. Uncertainty. Job loss. Loss of support systems like daycare. The list of stress factors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is long.

Canadians report a 20 per cent decline in how they rate their well-being, according to Stats Canada. Locally, a recent report by the City of Ottawa reveals that residents are reporting worsened mental health and emotional well-being, loneliness and weaker community connectedness, with 30 per cent wanting to talk to someone about their emotional state or mental health, but not knowing who they can go to. Particularly hard hit are parents of school-aged children and younger adults.

The situation is even more dire for those who experienced poor mental health prior to COVID-19, explained Jewish Family Services (JFS) Executive Director Sarah Caspi

“A lot of what people need from us they’ve needed all along,” said Caspi. “Now, our clients need more from us. For a lot of our clients, they come to us for reassurance.” This increased need came just JFS’ “people power” decreased with staff forced to work from home while also dealing with their lives and families in different ways. 

For JFS, the pandemic meant a quick pivot to online counselling and model that would allow their team to effectively work from home while guaranteeing client service, confidentiality, and security. 

“Unlike a lot of places, we didn’t have anything online before the pandemic,” said Caspi, who explained the move to online service had to take in some special considerations. “Our director moved so rapidly, making sure our staff was ready for anything. We had to evaluate security and confidentiality needs, how our clients would transition.” 

One small example of their personalized and secure online service was the move to Zoom counselling meetings where they could help people in a private and secure setting. An extra touch are the ‘waiting screen,’ which instead of the standard ‘Waiting for host to begin meeting,’ has a welcoming message saying that JFS will be with the client shortly. 

“Each of our units had to do things a little differently,” said Caspi. JFS caters to seniors and caregivers and offers adult day-programs, group and one-on-one counselling sessions, family counselling and domestic support groups. 

There is a depth of long-term evidence that links economic downturns with changes in mental health status. When many workplaces shut down in March 2020, only 34 per cent of Canadians out of work reported a “good” mental health status. When support programs kicked in mid-summer, statistics show these numbers went up to about 60 per cent. 

Caspi said over the last year they have been “lucky” to receive support from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, provincial and federal governments and grants from women-focused collectives. 

“Federation was instrumental in asking ‘How can we help?’ and letting us tell them what we needed,” said Caspi. Some funding from various sources went to getting the right technology in clients’ hands, so that they could attend virtual sessions. 

“We know that there are people we are reaching in the virtual platforms,” said Caspi. “As we come out of this, we’re looking at a hybrid model, especially when it comes to balancing the needs of our staff who are still focused on their homes and the needs of our clients.”

The increased funding allowed JFS to boost capacity levels and the challenge will now be how to maintain that capacity. 

“We don’t see the needs going away,” said Caspi. “We’re dealing now with people who are exhausted and stressed, not sure what will happen next.”

According to Statistics Canada, mental health effects of traumatic events, like a global pandemic, often last much longer than the actual event and that mental health in its connection to COVID-19, needs to be followed over time to determine its full impact. 

Now more than a year into the pandemic, with a continued expectation of restrictions existing for some time to come, Caspi said the adrenaline is wearing off. 

“We have to have the strength to do the last part of the marathon. How do we refuel ourselves?” 

As that happens, Caspi said connecting is key — both person-to-person and organization-to-organization — and to consider getting help, even if counselling is not something you’d looked at before.

“A lot of really bad stuff still happens during a pandemic and we [haven’t given it the same thought] we would have … cancer, suicides, depression. And people tend to think that other people have more worthy scenarios. But if something is keeping you up at night, that’s the time to reach out.”

Jewish Family Services Ottawa has several one-time walk-in options or programming choices. Contact them at 613-722-2225, or by email, For more information about their services visit