Assessing the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and financial support programs on social inequalities in mental health in Canada
There is growing evidence that the COVID‑19 pandemic, the measures applied to curb its spread, and its coincident economic shock, have had a profound negative impact on population mental health, including sharp increases in anxiety, depression, and substance use. However, few studies have explored the effects of the pandemic among socially vulnerable groups who were disproportionately affected, and the effectiveness of policies implemented to address the economic consequences of the pandemic are unknown. We propose to examine the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic and attendant policy responses on patterns of mental health and substance use in the Canadian population. This empirical study will use data from a pan-Canadian cohort of adults surveyed in any of the past six waves of the population-representative Canadian Community Health Survey Annual Component, 2015 to 2020. This cohort of roughly 306,000 will be linked to administrative data including mental health and substance use outcomes over the study period from 2015-2020, as well as receipt of COVID‑19 financial benefits from tax files. Our specific aims are: Aim 1. To measure the population-level impact of the pandemic nationally, within provinces/territories, and across social groups, as well as whether these effects varied depending on local response measures implemented. Aim 2. To measure the impact of financial support programs, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program, on mental health and substance use. Aim 3. To evaluate how financial support programs affected social inequalities in mental health and substance use. By capitalizing on rich survey and administrative data, this project will provide a comprehensive pan-Canadian investigation into the mental health impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and interventions implemented, which is critical to enhance preparedness for future health emergencies.