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The Impact of COVID-19 on Rural and Remote Mental Health and Substance Use


This policy brief provides an overview of the developing issues and unique mental health and substance use challenges that COVID-19 poses for rural and remote communities. It builds on a preliminary scan the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) completed at the outset of the pandemic and on an evidence brief on best and promising practices written just before it began. The current brief includes an updated literature review, a section on diverse populations and social determinants of health, domestic and international policy responses, and policy recommendations. Also included is a case study that highlights the British Columbia (B.C.) community of Princeton, in collaboration with the Princeton Community Health Table. Its primary audience comprises policy makers and organizations across the mental health and substance use sectors that serve rural and remote communities.

Key messages

  • The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a substantial impact on the mental health and substance use needs in rural and remote communities and on a growing lack of access to adequate and timely services and supports.
  • The unique context, the influence of the social determinants of health, and health equity considerations play major roles in how COVID-19 affects these communities in terms of mental health and substance use.
  • Provinces and territories pivoted quickly to provide innovative virtual mental health and substance use services. However, the lack of access to broadband internet coverage and information and communication technology (ICT) make it harder for people living in rural and remote communities to access services and supports.
  • The pandemic has been a challenge on the resources, capacity, and solidarity of rural and remote communities but has reinforced the importance of resilience.
  • Given the pandemic’s expected long-lasting effects on mental health and substance use, the post-pandemic period will be critical. It will also be an opportunity to transform the system and address unique impacts for people living in rural and remote communities.

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