Uncovering the hidden iceberg­

Why the human impact of COVID-19 could be a third crisis

COVID-19 has created a worldwide public health crisis, and the resulting lockdowns and social distancing measures have sent most country’s economies into a severe downturn. But we believe these crises are only the tip of the pandemic’s iceberg.

There is another crisis looming – a human crisis. Our past research on the human and social impact of natural disasters and periods of economic hardship has revealed a potential for increased incidences of mental illness, poorer educational outcomes, an increase in substance abuse and crime, and the weakening of the community fabric. We also found that once the public health and economic crises have subsided, the human crisis can endure for months, if not years, to come.

To help Canadian businesses, governments, and citizens prepare for the shocking reality of what’s to come, this report focuses on the potential mental health burden associated with COVID-19, and outlines action that can be taken now.

The report covers the following topics:

  • A study of mental health impacts of previous disasters. Public health data from the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires provides insight into mental, behavioural, and anxiety-related disorders, as well as antidepressant use, both during and after the crisis.
  • Understanding the impact of long-term unemployment on mental health. By examining the 1990 and 2008 economic recessions we can see the negative effect on employment rates, and the associated mental health impact on the unemployed.
  • Vulnerable populations at greatest risk for the human impact of COVID-19. After mapping neighbourhoods that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, identifying industries most affected by lockdowns, and examining the incidence of mental health issues – we find that women are at the epicentre of the human impact.
  • The time for action is now. The public health crisis took us by surprise, the economic crisis disrupted us, but we cannot afford to let the COVID-19 mental health consequences surprise us. There are several actions governments, mental health professionals, and insurers can start doing now to prepare for COVID-19’s human crisis.
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