Are Lake Cowichan residents the most anxious and depressed people on Vancouver Island? Hardly, says one prominent public health officer.
Recent media reports emphasizing Lake Cowichan’s rate of depression and anxiety are unnecessary and sensationalistic, said Dr. Paul Hasselback, a public health officer with Island Health.
“I’m going to slam the knuckles of your colleagues, journalists, because I’ve told them the numbers shouldn’t be presented that way,” he said, referring to Lake Cowichan’s depression/anxiety rate of 26.8 per cent compared to the Island’s overall average of 23.9 per cent. These numbers are pulled from Island Health’s local area health profiles.
Hasselback said it’s no wonder readers might be left with the impression that Lake residents are more anxious or depressed than other islanders, but that view is not necessarily accurate.
“If you go looking at the numbers, that’s what you’ll find, but those are first of all based on physician diagnoses from their office,” he said. “Some physicians will use a variety of different diagnoses, they may say ‘anxiety’ for a whole variety of different people coming into their office because it’s easy to do. It is a combination of a variety of mental health diagnoses, it’s not just depression.”
He said depression is probably less common than anxiety, and that diagnoses of anxiety can differ wildly between patients.
“[It] can vary from things like just being anxious about something that’s recently happened to a reaction to a significant event in one’s life to a longer-term mental health challenge,” said Hasselback.
It’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture which, is that whether a community’s anxiety/depression prevalence is one-in-four [like Lake Cowichan] or one-in-five, these stats are fairly consistent across the province and the country.
Hasselback said an important take-away from the recent spate of stories characterizing Vancouver Island residents as more likely to experience depression and/or anxiety is that this is the most common health challenge in any jurisdiction.
“And of our neighbours, families, friends, someone that we know is going to have a mental health challenge, whether it is being over-anxious or whether it is depression, and that we can be major contributors to their wellbeing by being supportive and being helpful, and by understanding how frequent mental illnesses actually are in our communities,” he said.
The Kaatza Health Clinic offers a number of services related to depression and anxiety, such as a questionnaire for prenatal women.
“We offer printed and online self-help resources, a weekly Mother’s Wellness group at Margaret Moss Health Unit and referrals to other community resources such as the family doctor, counsellors at Cowichan Lake Community Services, Mental Health in Duncan and the phone-in “warm line” at Pacific Post Partum Support Society,” public health nurse Carolyn Yablonski said in an email.