Work in this sector will focus on how best to support workforce planning and capacity development in the mental health and substance use sectors. This work will support efforts to improve access to mental health and substance use services, a shared priority across federal, provincial and territorial governments. Better data collection and planning across both public and private sectors is needed to ensure that increased investment results in a true increase in access, and to best support innovative service delivery models.
The mental health and substance use health (MHSUH) workforce has emerged as a critically important sector, but one that we know very little about due to long-standing data, regulatory and funding challenges. Now more than ever, this workforce urgently requires attention from policy makers in order to meet emerging needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Two groundbreaking MHSUH workforce studies have been funded by CIHR to begin to address critical knowledge gaps.
Our first study aims to understand and address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the capacity of the mental health and substance use health (MHSU) workforce to meet the needs of individuals, communities, and populations across Canada. Our literature synthesis found research in this area is sparse; however, the impact of pandemics on service provision, modifications to services to increase capacity, and the effect of gender and other social identities are key themes that emerged. Our survey of over 2000 MHSU workers across Canada reveals the complex nature of the impact of the pandemic on the capacity to provide MHSU services, including capacity differences across occupation, women and men, and whether services were funded publicly or privately (or mixed). Our interviews with 18 MHSU stakeholders and a policy dialogue with over 50 representatives from MHSU provider groups and governmental, non-governmental, and private sector organizations provide complementary data on the policy implications of our research findings and identified key action items and strategic priorities for next steps. Overall, the pandemic has had an impact on the capacity of this little known workforce, publicly-funded services have been harder hit than privately-funded services, and we urgently need better data and more policy attention to these issues to improve pandemic recovery.
Building on foundational work by our team, our second study will conduct a comparative policy analysis to capture the regulatory landscape for virtual MHSUH services (both in-person and virtual) and providers across Canada. In Phase 1, we will conduct a rapid document review and literature synthesis. In Phase 2, we will conduct interviews with a diverse cross-section of key informants. Using the data from these two phases, we will develop summative reports and conduct crosscase policy analyses to develop insights into the impact of regulatory policy reform on equitable access to MHSUH services (both in-person and virtual) and providers. The project includes an explicit SGBA+ lens to ensure we fully consider issues such as the higher proportion of women and gender-diverse individuals experiencing negative MHSUH impacts during the pandemic and the challenges in providing MHSUH services (both in-person and virtual) to lower-income and racialized populations. This study will inform the development of new national MHSUH standards in Canada.
Health Workforce Research in Progress: