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Mental Health and Substance Use

Mental health is an important aspect of overall well-being. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. During these challenging times, COVID-19 response measures have negatively impacted the mental health of many British Columbians.

COVID-19 response measures have also affected substance use. People use substances (such as alcohol, tobacco, medications, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.) for a variety of reasons, including to alter mood, thoughts and awareness, for social, emotional, and spiritual reasons, to manage physical or psychological pain. Substance use can have positive, neutral, or negative outcomes for individuals – and individuals can have positive experiences with one substance, while experiencing harm from another substance.  For some people the use of substances or engaging in certain behaviours can become problematic and may lead to dependence. Harms are more likely where substance use intersects with criminalization, racialization, lack of appropriate health services, and social, economic and political marginalization. 

We are monitoring key markers to help us understand the full impact that the pandemic and related response measures are having on individuals, families, communities, and the province as a whole.  

The reports in this section will review factors that support or hinder mental health and overall well-being during the pandemic: 

The Project Team is collaborating with FNHA and MNBC to highlight distinct First Nations and Métis people’s experiences, knowledge, voices, and recommendations. Additional information can be found in the Indigenous Health and Wellness section

Mental well-being and connectedness

Connections to family, community, school, friends, culture, and religion are protective factors for physical health, mental health, emotional health, cognitive health, and overall well-being. Healthy and strong relationships build strength and resiliency in ourselves and allow us to cope through challenging times—which is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 response measures have limited and restricted gatherings, required isolation and quarantine under certain circumstances, and overall, increased the amount of time individuals and families spend in their household. While some people have encountered new opportunities to support these connections, others have had reduced assistance and support and have felt isolated and lonely.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures have led to the disruption, postponement, and cancellation of cultural and religious activities, celebrations, events, and gatherings, connections to culture will likely be impacted. Connection to culture is strongly associated with health and wellbeing. 

Report forthcoming
Connections to family and a sense of belonging to a community serve as important protective factors for physical, cognitive, and mental health and well-being across all age groups. The COVID-19 pandemic and related response measures have created serious disruptions and strains, as well as led to some opportunities to foster these connections.

Report forthcoming


School connectedness is an important protective factor among children and youth that is linked to self-esteem, positive mental and physical health, as well as improved academic outcomes. The suspension of in-class learning and reduction in school programming can impact the levels of school connectedness experienced by K–12 students—with students from vulnerable and underserved populations being of particular concern.

Report forthcoming

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Mental health status

Mental health is a positive state that requires more than just the absence of a mental health disorder or condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is a “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”  We already know that past pandemics have been shown to worsen mental health. We will be examining the effect of COVID-19 response measures on population mental health, suicide and self-harm, social isolation among long-term care residents, and overall life satisfaction.

COVID-19 response measures such as physical distancing, self-isolation, and school and business closures have reduced social connection, created unemployment and lost income, and added other stressors for many people. This can trigger or worsen self-harm behaviour. It can also increase the risk of suicide. Reduced access to mental health services furthers contribute to these risks. 

Pandemics and other large-scale emergencies can negatively affect mental health both during and long after. Many people have experienced worsened mental health and greater stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stressors can include fear of infection of COVID-19, severe sickness and/or death of loved ones from COVID-19, loss of employment and income, disruption of social relationships, and increased family and childcare responsibilities. Severe and/or long-term stress increases the risk of developing mental illness, as well as physical health problems.

Mental Health
Long-term care residents are at higher risk of illness, complications, and death due to COVID-19. To protect residents, infection prevention measures in long term care and assisted living residences were implemented, including restrictions on visitors and social gatherings. These restrictions led to an increase in social isolation among residents, and negatively impacted their mental and physical health and well-being.

Life satisfaction is a key marker of well-being. As the societal consequences of COVID-19 are likely far-reaching and diverse, potentially affecting social, economic, cultural, personal, and environmental factors in an individual’s life, overall life satisfaction may change.

Report forthcoming

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Substance use

Isolation, worsening mental health, and various stressors and challenges brought on from the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures may cause some individuals to use substances to a greater degree as a means to cope with these burdens.  Reduction in access to mental health services, addiction support, and harm reduction services can make this much worse. We are monitoring these various impacts on problematic substance use and substance use disorders.

Access to community-based in-person services for mental health, substance use, and addiction were interrupted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to response measures, many mental health and substance use or addiction services are facing reduced capacity, as well as reduced access or adjusted delivery models (e.g., transition to virtual delivery) which may create challenges to meeting peoples’ needs.

Report forthcoming

COVID-19 and response measures are increasing the risk of overdose, illness, and death for people who use substances. Fatal and non-fatal overdoses are both at all-time highs. Measures have disrupted the drug supply chain, which has led to increased toxicity in the street drug supply. Measures have also created challenges for people to access overdose prevention services, obtain alternative prescription options, and rely on social networks (‘the buddy system’).  
Restrictions on indoor gatherings related to COVID-19 response measures have required the closure of casinos and other in-person gambling operations. This caused a shift from in-person to online gambling venues for individuals seeking alternative options. Online gambling is often an isolated activity, which may not provide the same oversight that may occur at in-person settings. This online shift, combined with the stress of the pandemic, may impact gambling risk behaviour. 

Report forthcoming

Harmful alcohol consumption has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As individuals experience worsening mental health from stress, social isolation, economic instability, disruptions of daily life and routines, and boredom associated with the pandemic and response measures, the risk of problematic substance use rises. Poor mental health status is strongly associated with problematic alcohol use.  

Problematic Alcohol Use

As the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures have reshaped daily routines and potentially affected health behaviours, lifestyles, and coping strategies, the rates of commercial tobacco smoking and vaping may change.

Report forthcoming

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SOURCE: Mental Health and Substance Use ( )
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