We hear about it on the news. We see it in poll after poll. And we see it in our own lives. It is COVID-19’s toll on the mental health of Canadians. There is no debate that the pandemic has worn us down, and that an echo pandemic of mental health issues may be looming. So, what can we do to head it off?
The federal government has made an essential start. Through its economic recovery plan, the enormous stress of job loss and economic instability is being eased by temporary income support and other financial measures. It has also introduced the free Wellness Together Canada portal, meant to support the immediate, short-term mental health and substance use needs of Canadians.
But these measures are only the beginning.
The grim reality of mental health in Canada predates COVID-19. Many Canadians already had unmet mental health care needs before the pandemic – about 1.6 million of us each year – and pandemic-related disruptions have only made things worse for those who were already living with mental health problems and mental illnesses.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is using all of its might to help Canadians tackle these new and growing mental health issues. It has worked hard to expand and adapt its virtual services and supports across the country. And it has joined other strong voices in sounding the alarm that government must act now, and act decisively, in order to protect Canadians in crisis and in recovery–because research shows that the mental health effects of a trauma like this can be profound and far-reaching, and last long after the pandemic is over. CMHA made a forceful case to the federal Standing Committee on Health in April. You can read it here. It also released recommendations on how to meet the mental health impacts of COVID-19 head on. To give you a sense of what CMHA is calling for, here are the eight federal recommendations:
- Preserve and enhance access to community mental health programs and services.
- Protect the mental health of essential workers.
- Create the conditions for Indigenous health equity and support the mental health of Indigenous peoples in Canada.
- Fully include persons with lived experience of mental illness in COVID-19 economic supports.
- Include persons with lived experience of mental illness in the process of forming the mental health response to COVID-19.
- Publicly fund evidence-based mental health care for all Canadians.
- Strengthen housing and employment supports for people with mental health problems and mental illnesses, and for all Canadians.
- Invest in mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and early intervention.
You can find the whole policy brief here.
As a country, we have acted – and continue to act — to bring the public health crisis to its knees. We must do the same for mental health, and we must act now.