Digital Interventions to Support Population Mental Health in Canada During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Rapid Review

JMIR Ment Health. 2021 Mar 2;8(3):e26550. doi: 10.2196/26550.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of negative health related consequences, including impacts on mental health. More than 22% of Canadians reported that they had felt depressed in the last week, in response to a December 2020 national survey. Given the need to physically distance during the pandemic, and the increase in demand for mental health services, digital interventions that support mental health and wellness may be beneficial.

Objective: The purpose of this research was to identify digital interventions that could be used to support the mental health of the Canadian general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. The objectives were to identify (1) the populations these interventions were developed for, inclusive of exploring areas of equity such as socioeconomic status, sex/gender, race/ethnicity and culture, and relevance to Indigenous peoples and communities; (2) the effect of the interventions; and (3) any barriers or facilitators to the use of the intervention.

Methods: This study was completed using a Cochrane Rapid Review methodology. A search of Embase, PsycInfo, Medline, and Web of Science, along with Google, Million Short, and popular mobile app libraries, was conducted. Two screeners were involved in applying inclusion criteria using Covidence software. Academic articles and mobile apps identified were screened using the Standard Quality Assessment Criteria for Evaluating Primary Research Papers from a Variety of Fields resource, the American Psychiatric Association App Evaluation Framework, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada's guidance on app assessment and selection.

Results: A total of 31 mobile apps and 114 web-based resources (eg, telemedicine, virtual peer support groups, discussion forums, etc) that could be used to support the mental health of the Canadian population during the pandemic were identified. These resources have been listed on a publicly available website along with search tags that may help an individual make a suitable selection. Variability exists in the populations that the interventions were developed for, and little assessment has been done with regard to areas of equity. The effect of the interventions was not reported for all those identified in this synthesis; however, for those that did report the effect, it was shown that they were effective in the context that they were used. A number of barriers and facilitators to using these interventions were identified, such as access, cost, and connectivity.

Conclusions: A number of digital interventions that could support population mental health in Canada during the global COVID-19 pandemic were identified, indicating that individuals have several options to choose from. These interventions vary in their purpose, approach, design, cost, and targeted user group. While some research and digital interventions addressed equity-related considerations, more research and focused attention should be given to this area.

Keywords: COVID-19; digital health; eHealth; informatics; mental health; mobile apps; pandemic; population health; psychiatry; public health; telemedicine; virtual care.

Publication types

  • Review