Written by Matin Moradkhan, Coquitlam, BC and Saba Vatanpour, Vancouver, BC on behalf of Talk Mental Health Foundation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to the realm of mental health, leaving a profound impact on individuals and communities worldwide. The isolation and uncertainty caused by lockdowns and social distancing measures exacerbated feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Many have grappled with the loss of routine, financial strain, and the fear of illness. The pandemic has also spotlighted disparities in mental health access, underscoring the urgent need for inclusive and accessible services. Although the pandemic was officially declared over by the World Health Organization (WHO), we continue to navigate the ongoing challenges and have to prioritize mental health and create a more compassionate and supportive national community.
The impact on youth mental health in Canada
Approximately 20% of Canadians encounter mental illness annually, and a significant portion endures prolonged waits or insufficient care, particularly impacting the youth. Prior to the disruption caused by COVID-19, mental health and substance use disorders already ranked among Canada's foremost sources of disability across all age groups. The pandemic exacerbated this scenario, intensifying feelings of isolation, stress, fear, and grief.
Research shows that access to mental health services for Canadian youth remains a concerning issue. While Canadian youth aged 16-24 have a higher risk of dealing with mental health concerns and addiction, their mental healthcare needs tend to be unmet. Furthermore, the Mental Health Commission of Canada suggests that “Mental illness affects 1.2 million of our children and youth. By age 25, that number rises to 7.5 million (about one in five Canadians).” These numbers are very cornering.
A personal struggle with mental health
As we write this, we want to share that our personal experience has been similar to that of many Canadian youth. Especially for one of us, the pandemic has had a long-standing effect on mental health, from anxiety to loneliness. Though the pandemic has ended, the impact it has had continues in dealing with grief and anxiety. It is essential to focus more on raising awareness about the various resources that currently exist while reducing the waitlist and cost of mental healthcare services.
Addressing the Mental Health Crisis
Addressing the mental health crisis in post-pandemic Canada requires a multi-faceted approach. It is crucial for policymakers to prioritize mental health funding and resources, ensuring that mental health services are accessible and available to all individuals in need. Additionally, promoting mental health awareness through supporting youth-led organizations that aim to raise awareness and create inclusive resources, along with destigmatizing seeking help for mental health concerns, are essential in encouraging individuals to seek support.
The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests that 87% of people who live in Canada demand universal mental health care. Universal mental health care can reduce the barriers to receiving proper mental health services for all, especially youth who may be unable to afford those services. Universal mental health can make services available and affordable through public health insurance plans accessible to all.
The way ahead
In conclusion, while the pandemic's acute phase may have ended in some regions, the mental health crisis in Canada is far from over. It is essential to acknowledge the lasting impact of the pandemic on mental well-being and take proactive steps to address the mental health crisis, which has worsened during the pandemic. In particular, focusing on youth and children's mental health and investing in prevention strategies can play a pivotal role. Canada can work towards healing and rebuilding mental well-being in the post-pandemic era by promoting awareness, investing in mental health services, supporting youth advocates, and investing in universal mental healthcare.