New research: Mental health impact of coronavirus pandemic hits marginalized groups hardest

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Our research is among the first to show that those who are systematically oppressed due to their mental health or disability status, income, ethnicity and related experiences have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s mental health consequences. This will continue unless we frame our public health and policy responses towards equity.

We need an overhaul in our approach to mental health. When last estimated, costs associated with mental health challenges in Canada topped $51 billion annually. As well, our mental health system is not equipped to respond to the everyday conditions responsible for many mental health challenges, particularly as they relate to the pandemic.

We need an equity-oriented mental health strategy that not only includes prevention and treatment, but also promotion. Characterized by “explicit concern for health and equity in all areas of policy,” this approach enhances population-level mental health responses.

In the case of COVID-19, this includes poverty reduction strategies, such as universal basic income, to mitigate the effects of economic hardship to prevent suicide and further mental health decline.

Also important are trauma- and violence-informed supports, including dedicated efforts to safely reopen schools and child care centres, programs to support children’s development and respite for struggling parents.

More than ever, public health and mental health strategies need to align to address the impact of the pandemic. An equity-oriented response is the only solution for a sustainable recovery.

Emily Jenkins is professor of Nursing, UBC. Anne Gadermann is assistant professor, School of Population and Public Health, UBC. Corey McAuliffe is a post-doctoral fellow, School of Nursing, UBC. A longer version of this article appeared at theconversation.com, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.

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