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The end of the coronavirus pandemic won’t mean the end of people struggling with mental-issues due to the prolonged public-health crisis, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The poll found only 35 per cent of Ontarians consider their mental health to be “very good” or “excellent,” compared to 52 per cent in the first round of polling in May 2020. It also showed nearly 80 per cent of respondents believe there will be a serious mental-health crisis following the pandemic, compared to 66 per cent in August and 69 per cent in May.

Read: Majority of Canadians experiencing mental-health issues not seeking help: survey

“It’s very worrying to see the trend lines on the mental health of Ontarians decreasing as significantly as they have since our last poll,” says Camille Quenneville, chief executive officer of the CAMH’s Ontario division. “As service providers, it’s very alarming to think about what we’ll need to do to support the population. The service demands will be very significant.”

More than one-third (36 per cent) of respondents reported high or very high stress levels, up from 30 per cent in the summer, while 35 per cent reported high or very high anxiety, also up from 30 per cent in the last poll. More than half of respondents (57 per cent) reported feeling lonelier since the pandemic began with 47 per cent saying they wish they had someone to talk to, while 36 per cent said they are “often, very often or almost always lonely.”

Service demands have been high throughout the pandemic and Quenneville only expects them to rise as society inches toward normalcy. “A lot of people will struggle in the aftermath of the pandemic because they will be coming to terms with what they’ve lost. And for a lot of people, it will be anxiety provoking to go back to their regular routine.”

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In light of this, the CAMH is urging Ontario to prioritize the sector in its upcoming budget. The government must pour more money into the mental-health sector in its second pandemic-era budget, set to be released March 24, says Quenneville. “The wait times across Ontario are astronomical and that’s true from children and youth right through to senior citizens. So very significant funding in the wait-time strategy is very key for us right now.”

The province’s health ministry, which oversees mental health services, said it has invested “up to $194 million in emergency funding for mental health and addictions services” in response to the pandemic, which is said has helped more than 57,000 Ontarians access services.