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Mental Health and Substance Use During COVID-19: Regional Spotlight and Key Factors

Mental health and substance use concerns have remained elevated in all province.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction tracked the relationship between mental health and substance use through a series of polls between October 2020 and March 2022.

This final report looks at regional variations among different populations across 10 waves of data during this period. Results include the relative impact of socio-demographic factors such as age and income as well as ways that substance use concerns increase mental health risks and vice versa.

Key Findings:

  • Mental health and substance use concerns were elevated over time in all provinces, throughout multiple waves of the pandemic.
    • Almost 35% of respondents reported moderate-to-severe mental health concerns.
    • Across all regions, about 25% of people who use alcohol or cannabis reported problematic use. 
  • Rates of access to mental health and substance use services (virtual and in-person) remained relatively low in all regions.
    • Fewer than 1 in 3 people with current mental health concerns and fewer than 1 in 4 with problematic substance use accessed services.
  • Financial concerns have been the top pandemic stressor across all regions except Quebec, where the top stressor was social isolation.
  • Current and past mental health concerns were strong predictors of substance use impacts and vice versa.
    • People with a history of substance use disorders were 2.8 times as likely to report seriously contemplating suicide. 
    • People who report current moderate-to-severe symptoms of depression were 3.2 times as likely to report problematic alcohol use.
  • Age, gender, 2SLGBTQ+, income, and employment status have been the strongest predictors of mental health and substance use concerns.

Policy makers’ priorities for action: timely access to a range of services and supports — especially among those most impacted — that include a focus on fostering resilience.

Leger Poll series resource page

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