The Pandemic Context

The COVID-19 pandemic context began early in 2020 and continues to evolve. Pivots, adaptations, re-thinking, and uncertainty are new norms. How are these norms playing out in the field of child and youth mental health promotion? Who is impacted and how? What are the implications for action? What additional data are needed to inform our efforts? This session included initial results from the Hub-led Pandemic Adaptations study and responses to these results from a diverse panel. Panelists brought data and stories from their own research and lived experiences on the impacts of the pandemic.

Key messages

    • The pandemic is affecting children and youth in disparate ways and amplifying longstanding health and social inequities
    • The pandemic picture is complex and includes some unanticipated benefits along with the many, more well-known challenges
    • Creating a healthier and equitable future depends on the amplification of all voices, especially those systematically muted
    • In periods like this of extreme and unanticipated change, return as much as possible to your foundations and build on them
    • Support and trust the younger generation in co-creating a better future


    • Josh Fullan, Principal Consultant, Maximum City
    • Claire Betker, Scientific Director, National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health
    • Vanessa Ambtman-Smith, Niizho Binesiik. Nêhiyaw-Métis; Thunderbird Clan, PhD candidate, Western University
    • Kathy Short, Executive Director, School Mental Health Ontario

In the words of the panelists

We didn’t start over. We built on what we had: a provincial strategy that we haven’t strayed from, organizational structures and processes that support good implementation, existing tools and resources, and probably most importantly, the foundation of good relationships and co-design that allowed us to face challenges together. Kathy Short

Taking the time to unearth the unexpected benefits, the positives or as the Elders in our communities have said, the ‘gifts’ of the pandemic. We’ve lived through pandemics before. We come from a place of knowing where Indigenous knowledge systems and our relationship to our ecosystem and our natural environment have equipped us with knowledge of how to survive, how to thrive during these times. Vanessa Ambtman Smith

If we are going to go back to better, then what is that better? And what is the recovery process that we all have a part of, and all have responsibility for? And to make sure that we engage communities and engage youth and children. Claire Betker

I think that this is an incredible moment where we as adults can move those structures and those forces that act on children inequitably and step aside and let them take a leadership to get us out of this degraded era that we live in. Think about those kids whose sense of empathy is turned up to 11, whose sense of justice, when they see everything around them, is turned up to 11 – imagine what they can do. Josh Fullan

The virus is here to wake up the world. Too many people are not connected to the land and water. It’s time for people to pay attention, to be still and to re-evaluate our lives. It’s time for us to be connected to our own way of being in the world and to get in touch with our own self in spirit. Teaching by Elder Liz Akiwenzie quoted by Vanessa Ambtman Smith (see Royal Society of Canada Report in additional resources)

Resources related to this session


January 26, 2021