How ‘collective purpose’ in coronavirus may lift those struggling with mental health

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Almost overnight, the daily lives of millions were rearranged as governments worldwide scrambled to contain the novel coronavirus.

The changes, however necessary, have drawn concern from mental health experts who worry about how self-isolation, financial insecurity and barriers to care could affect those already struggling — particularly individuals with thoughts of suicide.

Loneliness has the capacity to fray people, and can provoke feelings like anxiety and depression, said Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

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But there’s another way to look at it.

“There is a feeling of collective purpose in this,” he said.

“One of the key issues in mental health, and in suicide specifically, is a feeling that one doesn’t belong… These kinds of global catastrophes and emergencies can foster meaning and belonging. I think we’re going to see mixed impacts on mental health specific to this outbreak.”

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The global COVID-19 pandemic has infected at least 800,000 people and killed more than 39,000 worldwide. It has also paralyzed economies and forced governments to impose strict controls in an effort to stop the virus from spreading further and overwhelming already burdened health-care systems.

That has led to adjustments to everyone’s lifestyle, Canadians included.

“Isolation, in general, is really bad for people’s mental health,” said Ritika Goel,



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