COVID 19 Insights: Growing Isolation Blues

-46% Canadians say pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health

The images of a packed Toronto park this weekend showed how easily social distancing discipline can slip for some Canadians.

While the warm weather is a likely cause of people dropping their guard against COVID-19,  the deeper question is why people would decide to take the risk in the first place.

The answer might lie in the growing emotional toll of social distancing. Data from our 10,000 daily survey respondents shows that half of young people feel COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health.

What’s more, they are more concerned about the impact of social isolation than of actually contracting the virus.

We saw last week how Canadians are turning to retail therapy in the search for positive experiences during an emotionally difficult time.

In this context, is the flaunting of social distancing rules another manifestation of this trend?

Here’s what we found this week:

How is COVID impacting mental health?

Across all demographics, the pandemic is having a clear negative impact on mental health of Canadians. 46% of Canadians told us that COVID-19 had caused a negative impact on their mental health.

This figure goes even higher when looking at specific groups. Women are more likely to report negative impacts than men (48.6% vs 38.5%) while those under 40 were slightly more likely to identify adverse impacts on their mental health (48.4% vs 44.7%).

This may not necessarily be something that will resolve itself once governments lift restrictions. Just over 40% of those who said that the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health also said they anticipated that COVID-19 will have a long-term impact on their mental health.

What is causing the trend?

There is no single factor that defines of Canadians’ COVID concerns. However, our data shows that this clearly goes beyond the direct health implications of the pandemic.

Asked what concerned them most about COVID-19, 37% selected either the fear of contracting the virus themselves, or the loss of a family member.

Meanwhile 46% identified broader socio-economic reasons as their biggest concern about the pandemic. These are factors such as isolation, lack of daily routine, and financial hardship.

When looking at those who reported negative mental health impacts, this trend becomes more pronounced. 51% of this group selected these socio-economic impacts as their biggest concern rather than contracting the virus or losing a family member. 

Now looking at Canadians under 40 who reported negative mental health impacts, 20% say social isolation is their biggest concern with COVID-19 compared to 16% concerns about actually getting the virus.

This lays bare the challenge governments face as we past the initial phase of the pandemic.

New daily cases have come down, and as a result we have seen anxiety over the virus come down.

While overall our data suggests broad support and adherence to guidelines, getting unanimous buy-in to distancing protocols may become more challenging, despite the threat of a second wave being very real.

Is social media a positive or negative?

With Canadians cut off from seeing friends and family, social media offers an opportunity to keep people connected.  However, what seems to be happening is the opposite. If social media is having any impact on the mental health of Canadians, it is a negative one.

Again looking at those who reported a negative mental health impact due to COVID-19, we see that 40% said that social media had impacted their mental health in a negative way during the pandemic.

One possible explanation for this is the overload of content relating to the pandemic that Canadians encounter on social media. After all, this has been a ubiquitous issue in conversations and media coverage for over two months.

After so long, it is possible that Canadians have reached saturation point with pandemic content. In a separate survey, we found that 34% of our panel actively avoided COVID content.

What does this mean for brands?

This data shows that brands need to tread very carefully when it comes to messaging during COVID-19.

Not only is COVID overload a potential factor, but Canadians are wary of brands using the pandemic as a platform for advertising.

38% said they would be disappointed if their preferred brand used the pandemic for advertising purposes. Meanwhile just 20% said a COVID advertising campaign would encourage them to support a brand.

Key Takeaways

Isolation is beginning to grate

The decline in anxiety over coronavirus suggests that,  rightly or wrongly, we perceive it as less of a threat right now. 

Even if it is only a small minority who break social distancing guidelines, the broader concern many Canadians feel about the impact of isolation shows that this will become a tricky balancing act for authorities trying to guard against a sudden spike in cases.

Canadians are craving positivity

This week’s data bolsters the insight we saw in last week’s report. Two months into social distancing, Canadians are ready for positive experiences and moments of joy. While that should not extend to breaches of guidelines, people are looking for ways to counteract depressing pandemic experiences.

Is this a new area for brands to do good?

COVID-based campaigns may not work, but there are other ways to resonate with consumers.

Earlier Caddle studies have shown that brands who play an active part in the fight against COVID will increase purchase intent among consumers. As concerns about the pandemic broaden to include more social factors, these represent a broader set of ways to brands to do good right now.