Campus Life - Kamloops  

TRU expert advises Senate on mental health, job loss

Canada needs to expand mental health services and make them more available to underserved communities, Dr. Ehsan Latif told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recently.

Latif, an economics faculty member and the interim associate dean in the School of Business and Economics, is a leading expert in health impacts, or indirect costs, of unemployment. He was invited to speak to the Standing Committee on Health to share findings from his research, which could inform policy decisions around the response to the mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic.

With the pandemic driving the unemployment rate to 9.4 percent as of January 2021, and a further 18.4 percent underemployed (working fewer hours or unable to find work), there is a risk of increasing alcohol consumption, smoking, drug abuse, obesity and depression.

People take job losses personally

Work is an important part of our identities and losing a job can hurt more than just your bank account. In one study on the mental health impacts to Canadians from the Great Recession (2007-2009), Latif found mental health declined during the recession and remained low even after it ended. While the economy may bounce back, mental health may not.          

Especially among men, Latif found people who are unemployed are more likely to consume more alcohol and smoke more cigarettes. The unemployment rate also correlates to severe obesity.

Mental health services access lacking

A national health survey conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association in partnership with UBC researchers found that while 40 percent of Canadians are experienced a deterioration in mental health since March 2020, the rate is much higher among visible minorities, people who are unemployed, have a pre-existing mental health issue, are between the ages of 18 to 24, are Indigenous, identify as LGBTQ2+ or have a disability. Women also report lower mental health than men.

With so much moving online during the pandemic, many people may not have access to, or the skills to use, digital services. As a result, many people can’t get access to virtual mental health services.

As the second wave of the pandemic pushes more businesses to close, increasing unemployment, policy makers are urged to consider affordable mental health options that reach more vulnerable populations. Mental health problems will continue even after COVID-19 is gone. Thus, it is important to provide broader, publicly funded mental health services.

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