Meeting the mental health service needs of young people with and without a mental health diagnosis during COVID-19

Knowledge Institute on Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been marked changes to the delivery of mental health (MH) care for young people with a shift to virtual or digital services. Knowing how young people’s MH has been affected, and what services they are using, is important for improving service delivery during and post-pandemic. Additionally, understanding the differences between those with or without a MH diagnosis can inform service delivery further. Based on a survey conducted during Wave 2, we describe the MH impact and service use of 1373 young people in ontario. Our findings suggest that the MH and help-seeking behaviors of young people differ between those with and without a diagnosis in several ways, including whether, and what type of help they sought. Our findings suggest next steps for improving the awareness and use of provider-based and/or digital interventions to meet young people’s MH needs and preferences.


Mario Cappelli
Dr. Mario Cappelli is a Child Clinical Psychologist who for the past 25 years has specialized in working with children, youth, young adults and their families. He is currently the Senior Clinician Scientist at the Knowledge Institute on Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Cappelli’s research focuses on how to best identify needs and how to improve the integration of services between emergency departments or primary care and community-based child and youth mental health services.

Ashley Radomski
Dr. Ashley Radomski is a health systems researcher with BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. She is the Lead of a Provincial Network aimed at addressing system-level issues for adults with complex mental health and substance use service needs. Ashley was a former postdoctoral fellow at the Knowledge Institute on Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions where she conducted research on the mental health of children and use in response to COVID-19 and the use of clinical care pathways across Ontario.

Key Takeaways

  • Young people were asked what mental health supports they prefer
    • The responses: they want services that match their needs (those who report less need want less intense services and those who report more need more intense mental health services). The level of service has to meet the level of need
  • A follow up was conducted 1 year into the pandemic (February 2021)
    • 45% of participants reported having a mental health diagnosis
    • Significant differences were found in the demographics between those who had a mental health diagnosis and those who didn't 
    • Key findings: those with a mental health diagnosis rated their mental health more poorly. There were no significant differences with groups on their mental health change since covid (regardless of their self-reported bae line of mental health, all young people reported a relative worsening 1 year into the pandemic)
    • The types of mental health services/support that were accessed by youth: participants' friends/family/trusted adults, visiting a healthcare provider (virtually or in-person)
    • Those with a mental health diagnosis were more likely to use those services and supports than those without
    • Those with a mental health diagnosis are more likely to use a combination of support and services
  • Young people don't really know what is available
  • We need to do a better job of understanding how young people access services

Key Learning Objectives (defined by presenters)

  1. Learning about the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s mental health one year into the pandemic
  2. Learning about what mental health services and supports young people are aware of and have used since the pandemic
  3. Learning about the differences in mental health impact and service use between young people with or without a mental health diagnosis

Key Themes

  1. COVID-19
  2. Research and evaluation

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