The NWT government has released an updated report analyzing the potential effects of Covid-19 restrictions on various indicators of social wellness in the territory.
The report, a production of the territory’s Department of Health and Social Services, follows an earlier version that published findings from the first year of the pandemic.
When released in January 2021, the first study’s authors said the findings were inconclusive as they could not be certain whether changes observed were directly connected to pandemic restrictions or caused by pandemic-related challenges in acquiring the data.
The updated report, released on Monday, states there are still limitations to the data.
Generally, though, the report found that most of the impacts apparent at the beginning of 2021 had continued for the past year and a half.
Reports of suspected child mistreatment continue to decrease. However, that does not necessarily mean mistreatment itself is on the decline. The report states the lower number of reported cases may be because public health restrictions kept children out of school, where such maltreatment is usually reported.
Use of the NWT Helpline continues to increase, the report found. There has also been a general increase in emergency protection orders throughout the pandemic, used to protect victims of family violence.
Alcohol sales increased in the territory in 2020 and at the beginning of 2021, as they did across the country. Hospitalizations due to alcohol use were up 73 percent in 2020-21 compared to the average of the five previous years.
The report said sales are starting to drop to pre-pandemic levels.
From May to the end of November last year, sales were lower than for that period in 2020, though the report suggests this may be because more residents are travelling and purchasing alcohol outside the territory.
Of note is the fluctuation in numbers of people accessing mental health and addictions counselling services.
While access to these services fell during the first year of the pandemic, access rates are now returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Reasons for visits to community health centres and primary care clinics have also shifted throughout the pandemic.
“With some exceptions, the absolute numbers of visits relating to depression and anxiety rose since the onset of pandemic restrictions in 2020 until peaking with the highest number of visits in both categories in March of 2021,” the report says.
Anxiety-related visits decreased through the summer of 2021, but rose to be higher than 2020 levels last fall.
From January to March this year, the number of visits to community health centres related to depression was considerably lower than in the first three months of 2021.
The 2020-21 reporting year saw a 35-percent increase in the number of mental health hospitalizations compared to the average of the five years before the pandemic.