More Canadians experiencing ‘inflation isolation,’ cocooning at home

A new consumer debt poll suggests 51 per cent of Canadians are staying home more to save money, and a third are spending less on socializing. As Kate Walker reports, the poll indicates that “inflation isolation” is having an impact on mental health.

By Mike Lloyd and Hana Mae Nassar

The high cost of living is driving more people to stay at home to save money, and many Canadians say it is affecting their mental health.

One consumer debt service describes it as a new social phenomenon — “inflation isolation.”

An Ipsos poll for MNP LTD finds half of Canadians (51 per cent) say they are staying home more to save money, a third are spending less time socializing (35 per cent) or with friends (30 per cent), and about one-in-five describes a sense of social isolation (20 per cent) or loneliness (19 per cent) because of higher interest rates and inflation.

Grant Bazian, president of MNP LTD, says inflation and interest rates are not just affecting finances.

He notes that two in five respondents indicate they are feeling increased levels of stress and anxiety related to their finances.

“They’re self-isolating as a matter of choice because they’re feeling they don’t have the money to spend outside of their house, in terms of movies, concerts, whatever the case may be,” explained Bazian.

“They’re feeling that they’re not keeping up with maybe their friends or their family, keeping up with the Joneses, as they say. And as a result, they’re feeling anxious. It’s unfortunate people feel that way, there’s other ways to socialize and interact — walks, you know, getting together for maybe potluck dinners. Being creative, I think, is the answer here.”

He says many people have been anxious to get out and socialize since the pandemic hit and brought its own isolation. However, Bazian points out debt has its own way of isolating individuals.

“It’s not uncommon for those burdened by debt to withdraw from social activities and relationships out of shame or fear of judgement,” he explained.

“Canadians who are struggling financially need to know that help is available. Financial challenges can affect anyone, and there is no shame in seeking help.

Locals tell CityNews that “it’s not even cheap to stay home anymore.”

“Every time that I go to the grocery store, I’m shocked about the food prices,” they said.

“I do have friends that are struggling right now. People who are not in a dual-income household, they really are suffering. These people stay home, or they work way too much. They grind way too much and eventually there is no love for life,” another added.

‘People are afraid of the unknown’

Bazian explains that licensed insolvency trustees can provide guidance and support as Canadians “confront their debt challenges head-on,” adding some people wait years before seeking professional help with their debt.

“People are afraid of the unknown and the unknown causes a lot of anxiety. They don’t know where to turn. If they are over-extended and they don’t know where to go, it’s beneficial to reach out to a debt expert,” he told CityNews, noting many firms offer free consultations to help people identify which supports they need.

“Once someone knows their alternatives or their options, they walk away with a bit of breath of fresh air because they know it’s not the end of the world, there’s a way out. Worst case scenario, they may have to file bankruptcy or proposal, but an easier method might just be consolidating their loans or a bit of strategy in terms of how to budget.”

The poll for MNP LTD has found, as CRA flexibility and subsidies have come to an end over the last several months, many Canadians have found themselves struggling to keep up.

“People were existing for a certain period of time after that ended but then, I think, the problems came to roost that were always there — they never really went away, they were just always sitting there for a good chunk of Canadians — and then, I would said, probably the last six months, the numbers (of people seeking financial help) have definitely picked up,” Bazian explained.

“The difference between now and the pre-COVID world, is that we still have higher interest rates and we have higher inflation than we did before. This trend may continue on for a little bit longer before it stabilizes.”

Canada’s inflation rate fell to 3.1 per cent in October on a year-over-year basis, down from 3.8 per cent in September.

Mortgage interest costs, food purchased from stores, and rent were some of the driving factors.

UBCO Center for Obesity and Well-Being Research Excellence Director Lesley Lutes says her facility in the Okanagan offers in-person and virtual treatment and support for those experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression in relation to inflation, bills, or debt.

She says over 1,100 patients have attended the clinic since she opened it in 2018.

“Stress, anxiety, and worry are all real impacts of inflation and debt,” said Lutes.

“Talk about it. Reach out.”

-With files from Kate Walker and The Canadian Press

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