Harnessing digital mental health to improve equity in mental health care in the context of COVID-19: Needs, best-practices and opportunities in the Asia Pacific region
COVID‑19 has had an unprecedented impact worldwide and is expected to have profound mental health effects. The impacts of the pandemic and the changes to regular life all affect mental health. These affects might be more severe for people who experience other challenges or are in particularly stressful circumstances, including healthcare workers, people experiencing homelessness, women, the elderly, children, people living with existing mental health and substance use conditions, and victims of domestic violence. People who are at-risk might also have a more challenging time accessing mental health care. Because the pandemic is global, its affects are felt worldwide. The way that countries respond can provide important lessons for Canada and other parts of the world. The Asia Pacific region includes Canada and is home to 40% of the world’s population. Countries in the region have grappled with COVID‑19 at different stages and have taken different approaches to addressing mental health. All countries have challenges with making sure that mental health services reach those most at-risk and there is an opportunity to learn from each other. The use of digital mental health care has increased during the pandemic. While digital mental health has potential to improve access to care, there are also challenges with making sure it reaches at-risk groups. This study, led by the APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health, brings together a network of researchers, healthcare providers and policy makers to rapidly synthesize information about the needs of at-risk groups in the Asia Pacific, challenges they face to accessing mental health care, and the possibilities of using digital health to improve their care. We will conduct reviews and consultations with expert groups. The results of these activities will lead to a knowledge mobilization plan that includes recommendations for improving mental health care via digital technology for at-risk groups in the Asia Pacific.