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Health Care Transformation

Understanding and Addressing the Mental Health Impact of COVID-19

Woman sitting by a window and looking outside
Woman sitting by a window and looking outside

The alarming physical side effects of COVID-19 have been well-documented since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March of 2020. But what about the mental health impact? Front-line health care workers, grocery store clerks, students, parents, and people working in isolation at home are all dealing with new levels of stress and anxiety.

Historically, one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness each year, and two thirds of those suffering don’t obtain treatment. More than 500,000 Canadians miss work every week due to mental health issues and 30–40% (and climbing) of health insurance claims in Canada are due to mental health issues.1 As Canadians adjust to a new normal, the challenges to be met include managing health anxiety, uncertainty, social isolation, caring for others, financial stress, 24/7 parenting in isolation, working from home, staying active and healthy, and social media hygiene. Health Canada estimates that two million Canadians will show signs of traumatic stress, with even more predicted to experience higher levels of stress in their families and at work.

Happy woman looking at her phone outside

In Canada, organizations like Big White Wall and MindBeacon are taking a closer look at what people are experiencing and offering tools to help.

Big White Wall is an anonymous peer-to-peer mental health community monitored by clinicians 24/7 and available to all residents of Alberta and Ontario. Since the 2019 province-wide rollout, more than 35,000 people in Ontario have turned to Big White Wall for support, with 67% reporting that they feel less isolated and 93% reporting improved well-being. During the pandemic, Big While Wall experienced a 300% increase in new registrations and a 110% increase in posts, with more than 90% of posts related to the COVID-19 crisis. Users turned to Big White Wall for help with anxiety, worry, guilt, social isolation, and economic worries.

MindBeacon is a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) platform that offers online assessments, tailored therapy, evidence-based care access to therapists, and more. Since the onset of the pandemic, MindBeacon has experienced a threefold increase in volume through Stronger Minds, its free digital program designed to support mental well-being for all Canadians during the COVID-19 crisis. Stronger Minds offers support through videos and quick reads from mental health experts, resilience-strengthening activities, and “Ask an Expert” videos created in response to user questions. A team of psychologists provides day-by-day guidance on difficulties with social isolation, supporting struggling family members, worries about financial insecurity, and more. For Ontario residents, free mental health supports — including BEACON therapy (also called “iCBT”) — are available through the Government of Ontario COVID-19 support website.

These organizations are stepping up to ensure that people have the extra help they need to stay mentally healthy while dealing with unprecedented challenges. Other resources include:

National Crisis Hotlines

National Resources for Mental Health Information

Ontario Crisis Hotlines

Ontario Resources for Mental Health Information

Resources for Health Care/Front-Line Workers

MindBeacon Resources

With contributions from Glenn Lanteigne (Tectonic Advisory Services), Colin Andersen (MindBeacon), Nicole Misura, Matthew McEvoy, and Dr. Marion Lyver (Tectonic Advisor).


  1. Source: MindBeacon.
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