Ana Fostik, PhD, and Jennifer Kaddatz
April 22, 2020
Nearly half of adults aged 18 years or older in Canada report feeling anxious/nervous (47%) or sad (45%) “very often” or “often” since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, according to survey data from the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, which was collected from April 9 to 12, 20201 (fig. 1).
Four in 10 report feeling irritable (39%) and about one-third report experiencing sleep-related problems (35%) and mood swings (32%) “very often” or “often” since the start of the crisis (fig. 1).
But are adults currently in a couple – whether common-law or married – as likely as those who are single or separated, divorced or widowed to experience feelings of unsettledness?
Anxiety/nervousness and difficulty sleeping during the pandemic don’t appear to be linked to marital status
Feeling anxious or nervous very often/often is equally likely to be reported by adults who are part of a couple (48%) as by those who are single (47%) or separated, divorced or widowed (43%) (fig. 1).
Similarly, very often/often having difficulty sleeping is equally likely among those in a couple (35%) as among single adults (36%) or those who are separated, divorced or widowed (35%).
Whether single or in a couple, anxiety and sleeping problems are reported more by women than by men
Previous studies of mental health have found that women are more likely to experience anxiety disorders and depression compared with men.2 This appears to be the case in a pandemic environment as well.
Women are far more likely than men to report very often or often experiencing anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic: almost 6 in 10 women who were in a couple (58%) or were single (59%)3 report feeling anxious or nervous very often/often, compared with fewer than 4 in 10 men who were either in a couple (37%) or single (37%) (fig. 2).
As for challenges during the night, more than 4 in 10 women report difficulty sleeping very often/often since the beginning of the pandemic, whether or not they are in a couple (44%) or single (44%). This compares with fewer than 3 in 10 men, whether in a couple (26%) or single (29%).
Single people are more likely to experience irritability and mood swings
Irritability and mood swings are more common among individuals who are currently single (fig. 1). Almost half of single adults (48%) report feeling very often/often irritable since the start of the pandemic, compared with 37% of those in a couple and 30% of those who are separated, divorced or widowed. Single adults (39%) also report mood swings in higher shares than those in a couple (31%) and those who are separated, divorced or widowed (27%).
Again, women, regardless of their marital status, are more likely than men to experience irritability or mood swings. About 6 in 10 single women (59%) and 42% of those in a couple report feeling irritable very often/often since the start of the pandemic. Men report being irritable very often/often in lower proportions than women, whether single (38%) or in a couple (32%) (fig. 2.).
Single women (46%) are the most likely to report mood swings very often or often since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, followed by women in a couple (38%). Men are less likely than women to report frequent mood swings, but those who are single (31%) tend to report mood swings very often/often in higher shares compared with men in a couple (23%).
Separated, divorced or widowed women most likely to feel sad
Feeling sad very often/often during the coronavirus crisis is more commonly reported among separated, divorced or widowed (51%) and single (48%) adults, compared with those in couples (43%) (fig. 1).
Frequently feeling sad is also more common among women, whether single (59%) or in a couple (53%) than among men, whether single (37%) or in a couple (33%) (fig. 2).
Mental health impacts the well-being of families
Mental health trends, by marital status and gender but also by other factors, will be important to monitor in the short, medium and long term of the COVID-19 pandemic. An initial analysis has shown that income or job loss and immediate financial strain also affect mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and difficulty sleeping during the pandemic. Furthermore, mental and physical health are linked – people with a mood disorder are at much higher risk of developing a long-term medical condition than are those without.4
Problems with mental health can have a serious impact on an individual’s education, work, social life and interactions with their family.5 Among Canadians who had at least one family member with a mental health problem in 2012, over one-third (35%) thought that their lives had been affected by their family member’s mental health and approximately 71% of those who perceived that their lives were affected by a family member’s mental health problem reported they had provided care to their family member.6
As such, the well-being of families in Canada is dependent upon on the mental health of the individuals who make up those families. Evidence-based decision making will better drive targeted social supports both for individuals and for families as the coronavirus progresses, as well as after the present crisis is over.
Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
- A survey by the Vanier Institute of the Family, the Association for Canadian Studies and Leger, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, 2020, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.
- Caryn Pearson, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali, “Mental and Substance Use Disorders in Canada,” Health at a Glance, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-624-X (September 2013). Link: https://bit.ly/3btTtHk.
- Comparisons by sex are not possible for separated, divorced or widowed adults in this case due to low response counts.
- Patten et al. (2005). “Long-Term Medical Conditions and Major Depression: Strength of Association for Specific Conditions in the General Population,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 50:195–202 (2005). As cited on Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Link: https://bit.ly/3eEjyWc.
- Mental Health Commission of Canada. Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada (Calgary, Alberta, 2012). Link: https://bit.ly/2xEs4UI (PDF).
- Caryn Pearson, “The Impact of Mental Health Problems on Family Members,” Health at a Glance, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82‑624‑X (October 7, 2015). Link: https://bit.ly/3bsRnaR.