How Bad Was It? A New KDE Hub Tool Describes the Impact of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Canadians

Way back in our May 2021 blog, at the height of COVID-19, we acknowledged mental health as the 4th wave of the pandemic and positioned mental health promotion as an essential approach in addressing the underlying conditions that negatively impact mental health, including those made worse by COVID-19. We argued that strengthening Canada’s response to COVID-19 required strengthening mental health promotion.

As we emerge from the main grip of COVID-19 almost two years later, it may be a good time to survey the broader landscape of the pandemic and assess its impact on the mental health of Canadians.  A little like stepping out from a dense cluster of trees for a wider view of the forest. And what do we see when we look at that pandemic forest? Most of us will agree that things don’t look good. All of us experienced COVID-19 conditions and stressors and we’re aware of their widespread, damaging impact on mental health.

But just how bad was it? Who was affected and how?

Part of the KDE Hub’s mandate is to create and collect evidence-informed knowledge and to support learning that fosters mental health promotion. Our intent is to provide practical tools to help mobilize that knowledge and learning into action. The most recent Hub tool, Impacts of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Canadians: Summary of a Rapid Review, offers a summary of research findings that describe COVID-19’s impact on the mental health of Canadians, including children and youth as well as differential effects among four priority populations: racialized, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQI+, and immigrants, refugees, and newcomers. It paints a picture of the many stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they affected mental health.

Not surprisingly, things don’t look good.

This new Hub tool clearly shows that COVID-19 had a very damaging impact in Canada on the mental health of the general population and children and youth, with significantly worse outcomes for priority populations who were more vulnerable because of pre-existing structural and social inequities. The tool offers research information distilled from a large collection of Canadian studies and reports which we hope will be helpful in raising awareness, increasing understanding, and improving knowledge around the serious consequences of the pandemic on the mental health of Canadians.

Beyond supplying research information, the tool also provides upstream recommendations to address COVID-19’s mental health impacts and is meant to support those who are taking action to mitigate them. In particular, it may be useful to mental health promotion projects funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada as part of their Supporting the Mental Health of Those Most Affected by COVID-19 program.

Our hope is that insights shared in this tool may serve as reference material and supporting evidence for mental health promotion initiatives to help establish priorities, guide practice, and optimize program impact. After all, the right knowledge in the right hands can be a powerful agent of change – sharpening our focus, channeling our energy, validating our experience, and crystallizing our plans into action.

When we look around, it’s obvious that Canada is currently experiencing the full force of the pandemic’s 4th wave of mental health impacts, and we can see that the waters are high. While we can’t forget the important and necessary role of mental health treatment in bailing the flood around us, we know these efforts alone are not enough. Mental health promotion is the essential approach required to move upstream, shore up protective factors that change the root causes of mental health suffering, and stem the rush of water. It’s both reassuring and inspiring to witness the efforts of dozens of mental health promotion projects in Canada who are actively involved in this upstream work. The KDE Hub is proud to walk alongside the projects and people building momentum in mental health promotion and to offer our newest Hub tool as a support to these partners and their work. We believe that what was true way back in May 2021 is still true now: a strong response to the mental health impacts of COVID-19 requires ongoing efforts to strengthen mental health promotion.