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What We Learned About Mental Health 4 Years After Lockdowns

What We Learned About Mental Health 4 Years After Lockdowns

Four years on from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time marked by widespread lockdowns and unparalleled challenges, we've gained a unique perspective on the profound effects these changes have had on mental health. This period of upheaval has served as a crucial learning experience, offering insights that could enhance our preparedness for future crises. Here, we outline a few key lessons gleaned from navigating one of the most significant global health emergencies in recent history, now that we are four years wiser.

Four years on from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time marked by widespread lockdowns and unparalleled challenges, we've gained a unique perspective on the profound effects these changes have had on mental health. This period of upheaval has served as a crucial learning experience, offering insights that could enhance our preparedness for future crises. Here, we outline a few key lessons gleaned from navigating one of the most significant global health emergencies in recent history, now that we are four years wiser.


The Importance of Mental Health Awareness

The pandemic era served as a global wake-up call regarding the significance of mental health, shedding light on issues that were previously overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of daily life. As societies worldwide grappled with isolation, anxiety, and stress, the crucial role of mental health in our overall well-being became undeniably clear. This period of upheaval brought forward several key aspects of mental health awareness:

A Broader Understanding of Mental Health
Before the pandemic, mental health discussions often occurred in hushed tones, if at all. However, as more people began to experience mental health challenges, the conversation shifted. There was a collective realization that mental health is as important as physical health, and deserving of the same attention, care, and support. This broader understanding helped destigmatize seeking help and encouraged open discussions about mental health issues.

Self-Care and Mindfulness
The pandemic underscored the importance of self-care practices and mindfulness as essential tools for coping with stress and uncertainty. Individuals discovered or returned to activities that nurtured their mental well-being, from simple pleasures like reading and gardening to structured practices such as meditation and yoga. The emphasis on mindfulness and living in the present moment became a lifeline for many, helping to mitigate the anxiety brought on by an uncertain future.

Seeking Help is a Strength
One of the most significant shifts in perception was recognizing that seeking help for mental health issues is not a sign of weakness but of strength. The increased prevalence of mental health struggles made it evident that anyone could be affected, regardless of their background or circumstances. This realization fostered a more supportive environment where individuals felt more comfortable reaching out for professional help, whether through therapy, counselling, or other mental health services.

The Role of Community and Social Support
The isolation experienced during lockdowns brought into sharp focus the importance of community and social support in maintaining mental health. Virtual meetings, social media, and other forms of digital communication have become vital for staying connected. Communities found innovative ways to support each other, from neighbourhood support groups to online forums. These efforts not only helped alleviate feelings of loneliness but also built stronger, more compassionate communities.

Increased Accessibility to Mental Health Resources
The surge in demand for mental health support led to an increase in accessibility to resources. Telehealth services expanded, and many mental health professionals and organizations offered online sessions, making it easier for individuals to access help from the safety and comfort of their homes. This expansion demonstrated the potential for technology to bridge gaps in mental health care, making services more accessible to those who previously faced barriers to access.


Flexibility and Adaptability in Work Environments

The global transition to remote work during the pandemic served as a pivotal experiment in redefining workplace norms and priorities, particularly around mental health. This shift not only altered where people worked but also brought to light the critical relationship between work arrangements and mental well-being. Several key lessons emerged from this period, emphasizing the need for flexibility, adaptability, and a more conscious approach to work-life balance.

Flexibility as a Key to Well-being
The ability to work from anywhere at any time highlighted the importance of flexibility in the modern workplace. This flexibility allowed many employees to design work schedules that better suited their personal lives and responsibilities, leading to improved job satisfaction and mental health. It demonstrated that rigid work schedules and environments are not always conducive to productivity or happiness. Instead, accommodating individual needs and preferences can lead to a more engaged and mentally healthy workforce.

The Importance of Work-Life Balance
The blurred lines between home and work life underscored the necessity of maintaining a clear separation between the two. Remote work challenged individuals to create distinct workspaces within their homes and to establish routines that delineated work time from personal time. This effort to balance work and life responsibilities highlighted the fact that overworking and the inability to "switch off" from work can significantly impact mental health. As such, both individuals and companies recognized the need to promote and respect work-life balance as essential to well-being.

Setting Boundaries for Mental Health
With the home becoming the office, setting boundaries became crucial. Employees needed to communicate their availability and work hours more clearly to avoid burnout and maintain their mental health. This practice of setting boundaries extended beyond just work hours to include mental space and emotional energy. Learning to say "no" or to request extensions on deadlines when overwhelmed helped in managing stress and preventing burnout.

Recognizing the Role of Mental Health Days
The shift to remote work also led to a greater acknowledgment of the importance of mental health days. Companies began to understand that mental health is as critical as physical health and started to offer days off specifically for mental well-being. This recognition helped destigmatize mental health issues within the workplace and encouraged employees to take the time they need to care for their mental health without fear of judgment or retribution.  Great Article that addresses this increase in mental health day adoption

Reevaluating Work Norms and Supportive Structures
The remote work era prompted a comprehensive reevaluation of work norms, with a growing emphasis on mental health. Organizations began to integrate more supportive structures for mental health, such as access to online counselling services, mental health training for managers, and regular check-ins on employee well-being. These measures aimed to create a culture where mental health is prioritized, and employees feel supported and understood.


The Role of Technology in Mental Health Support

The pandemic catalyzed a seismic shift in how mental health support is provided and accessed, with technology playing a central role. As face-to-face interactions became limited due to health concerns, digital platforms emerged as essential tools for providing continued mental health care. This period of rapid technological adoption and innovation has not only expanded access to mental health services but has also reshaped the landscape of mental health support in several key ways.

Expansion of Telehealth Services
Telehealth, the delivery of healthcare services via telecommunications technologies, saw unprecedented growth during the pandemic. Mental health professionals quickly adapted to providing therapy and counselling sessions online, ensuring that individuals could continue receiving support without leaving their homes. This expansion significantly reduced barriers to access, such as physical distance, mobility issues, and time constraints, making mental health care more accessible to a broader population, including those in remote or underserved areas.

Development of Digital Mental Health Tools
The increased focus on mental health led to a surge in the development and use of digital mental health tools, including apps for meditation, mood tracking, and stress management. These tools offer users the ability to manage their mental health proactively, providing resources such as guided meditation, breathing exercises, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. Many of these apps also include features for tracking progress over time, helping users and their healthcare providers monitor and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Online Support Groups and Communities
Digital platforms have facilitated the creation of online support groups and communities where individuals can share their experiences, challenges, and coping strategies. These virtual communities provide a sense of belonging and support that can be particularly beneficial for those who may feel isolated or stigmatized by their mental health struggles. The anonymity and accessibility of online platforms can also make it easier for individuals to seek out support and connect with others facing similar issues.

Challenges and Considerations
While the role of technology in mental health support has grown significantly, it also presents new challenges. Digital literacy and access to technology are prerequisites for accessing telehealth services and digital mental health tools, potentially excluding those without the necessary skills or resources. Additionally, concerns about the quality of online therapy, privacy, and data security need to be addressed to ensure that digital mental health services are both effective and safe.

The Future of Mental Health Support
The integration of technology into mental health care is likely to continue evolving. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) offer promising new ways to support mental health. AI can help personalize treatment recommendations based on individual data, while VR has the potential for immersive therapies that can address conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and phobias in new and effective ways.


The Impact of Social Isolation

The pandemic's lockdowns and social distancing measures brought the issue of social isolation to the forefront, highlighting its profound impact on mental health. This experience has led to a renewed appreciation for the role of social connections in our lives and has underscored the necessity of actively fostering and maintaining these connections for our well-being.

Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation
Social isolation, characterized by a lack of meaningful interactions with others, has been shown to have significant adverse effects on mental health. These include increased rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The lockdowns made it palpably clear how essential regular social contact is to our psychological health. For many, the absence of face-to-face interactions led to a heightened sense of loneliness and a decrease in mental well-being, demonstrating how integral social connections are to our sense of happiness and belonging.

The Value of Community and Connection
The challenges posed by social isolation reinforced the value of community and connection. Communities that found ways to stay connected, whether through virtual events, socially distanced gatherings, or mutual aid groups, often reported a stronger sense of cohesion and resilience. This period has taught us that community bonds can be a powerful buffer against the negative effects of isolation, providing emotional support, a sense of belonging, and mutual assistance.

Building and Maintaining Social Support Networks
The realization of how crucial social interaction is for mental health has led to a greater emphasis on building and maintaining social support networks. In personal contexts, this has meant making more concerted efforts to reach out to friends and family, whether through digital means or in safe, socially distanced ways. Professionally, it has highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for team bonding and support, even when working remotely. Many organizations have introduced regular check-ins, virtual coffee breaks, and online team-building activities to foster a sense of connection among colleagues.

The Role of Technology in Connecting People
Technology has played a crucial role in bridging the gap caused by physical distancing, providing platforms for video calls, online games, social media interactions, and virtual events. These tools have been invaluable in maintaining personal and professional relationships during periods of isolation. However, the reliance on technology has also underscored the importance of digital literacy and access, highlighting a digital divide that can exacerbate feelings of isolation for those without the means or skills to connect online.

Adapting to New Ways of Socializing
The experience of lockdowns has led to an adaptation in how we socialize and maintain relationships. People have become more creative in finding ways to connect, from virtual movie nights to online book clubs and digital dinner parties. These adaptations have expanded our understanding of community and connection, showing that while the medium may change, the fundamental human need for social interaction remains.


The past four years have been a profound period of learning and adaptation. The insights gained about mental health are invaluable, teaching us the importance of resilience, support, and the need for systemic changes to address mental health challenges. As we look forward to the next 4 years, these lessons can guide us in creating a more supportive and understanding society that prioritizes the mental well-being of each individual, couple, & family unit.

While the immediate crisis of the pandemic has subsided, its lessons linger, urging us to continue advocating for mental health awareness, support, and change. As we reflect on these lessons learned, it's crucial to keep the conversation about mental health ongoing, fostering a culture of care, understanding, and action that will benefit society long into the future.

Your Partner In Wellness

Your Partner In Wellness

Refresh Counselling is committed to providing the most elevated mental health services to our patients in at either of our locations in Calgary and across Alberta. We promise to meet you where you are, provide insight and a safe space, and help you get to where you want to be. Take advantage of our complimentary consultation to connect with a psychologist who can be your expert guide as you journey towards mental health and well-being. Book now in Jane, our virtual system.

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