Professor David Pettinicchio’s new article “COVID-19 affects the mental health of those already most vulnerable in society” was featured in the Toronto Star. Professor Pettinicchio examines the negative impacts from COVID-19 on those with disabilities and chronic health conditions.
In June 2020 Professor Pettinicchio’s research team surveyed Canadians with disabilities and chronic health conditions about the added anxiety, stress and despair brought on by the pandemic and posted their findings in the Disability and Health Journal. The article uses the findings to show that many have experienced a significant increase in anxiety, stress and despair and those impacted economically by the pandemic were even more likely to report deteriorating mental health.
For many Canadians, the news of vaccinations, warmer weather and an easing of restrictions will help improve their mental health. Unfortunately, those with disabilities and chronic health conditions must remain isolated, cautious and will likely continue to feel the added stress and anxiety. For Professor Pettinicchio, this means Canadians need to support public health investments in combating mental health issues, and need to include this marginalized group in the governments response to the pandemic.
David Pettinicchio is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities at UTM. His research focuses on social policy, social movements, and political sociology. He has recently begun research on how policy responses to COVID-19 have shaped public perceptions of government and policy, and how people with disabilities and chronic health conditions are economically impacted by the pandemic.
We've included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full article on the Toronto Star.
COVID-19 affects the mental health of those already most vulnerable in society
By David Pettinicchio
Mon., March 1, 2021
Surpassing year one of the COVID-19 pandemic, its effects on social and economic life have taken their toll on the mental health of many Canadians. But certain groups, left vulnerable due to larger structural failures, have felt the impact more than others. This is especially true for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions.
People with disabilities and chronic health conditions are more at risk of getting COVID-19, experiencing complications, and dying from the virus. They have been especially negatively affected by the economic downturn and have been largely excluded from government economic supports. And, social distancing measures have further isolated Canadians with disabilities cutting them off from friends, family, and care workers.
Last June, our research team conducted a national survey of 1,027 Canadians with disabilities and chronic health conditions to find out about changes in anxiety, stress, and despair and what specific pandemic-related factors are contributing to these. Our findings were recently published in the Disability and Health Journal.
We found that over one third of respondents reported increased levels of anxiety and stress, with about one fifth reporting growing levels of despair. This varied across respondents, though. Respondents reporting more severe disabilities and health issues were more likely to feel anxious, stressed and have feelings of despair.
Individuals worried about getting COVID-19 and those economically impacted by the pandemic were also more likely to report deteriorating mental health as well as those reporting feeling lonely and lacking a sense of belonging.
The pandemic continues to illustrate how disruptions to our ways of life negatively impact our mental health, but it also reveals how pre-existing health and socio-economic barriers experienced disproportionately by some Canadians make declining mental health even greater. Our results reflect a period when lockdowns were easing and the promise of a “return to normal” kept people feeling more hopeful. As the pandemic progressed, anxiety and stress have no doubt increased.