The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a renewed focus on our collective mental health. For more than a year now, Canadians have been faced with increased isolation, heightened uncertainty and overwhelming feelings of emotional and mental exhaustion. Lockdowns are causing disruptions of services and strained resources for all Canadians, and our most vulnerable communities are being disproportionately affected.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 40% of Canadians say their mental health has been negatively affected by the pandemic, and 60% of Canadians who already struggle with mental illness are reporting a health decline since the onset of COVID-19.

“We must come together to invest in greater solutions for the prevention and treatment of mental illness to overcome the challenges and gaps that existed pre-pandemic and have now been exacerbated,” says Dr. Viviane Poupon, President and CEO of Brain Canada. “We must put a plan in place for our collective recovery and begin building back our mental health.”

As a national convenor, facilitator and driver of innovation, Brain Canada, brings together visionary philanthropists and foundations, corporations, institutes, government agencies and volunteer organizations to fund innovative brain research and shape the national agenda for research into mental health.

To mitigate the psychiatric impacts of the pandemic, the Montreal-based registered charity has launched a $12M mental health initiative that is both strategic and forward-thinking. Introducing three interlocking pillars, the approach promises to benefit all Canadians and cast a much-needed light into the shadows of mental health research.

Translational Research

The first research pillar focuses on integrated knowledge transfer, meaning research projects that, from inception, are informed by community needs, engage actively with clinicians and patients and are centered on impact-focused achievements that can be quickly and efficiently implemented into practice. Thanks to a partnership with Bell Let’s Talk, Brain Canada will be funding four game-changing projects that accelerate emerging scientific knowledge and innovative solutions to drive more effective and sustainable mental health services to the frontlines, including for substance abuse and addiction.

“My hope is that the pandemic will have taught us and shown us how important mental health is, just like any other component of our health,” said Dr. Robert Laprairie, GlaxoSmithKline-CIHR Chair in Drug Discovery and Development at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, and a 2019 Azrieli Future Leader in Canadian Brain Research. “This period has been hard on all of us from a mental health perspective. We are social creatures. We are meant to socialize. It’s made us realize that we need new strategies and ways of dealing with mental health.”

Basic Research

In the coming months, Brain Canada will be committing additional funds to expand our knowledge and enhance our understanding of mental disorders and illnesses. The Basics of Better Research Program will fuel necessary long-term research into the fundamentals of mental health to support further exploration of mental illnesses and to improve access and treatment options.

Targeted Research

Finally, a special focus will be placed on youth, a critical period when mental health struggles can first become apparent, are easier to treat and have not yet been entrenched. To accelerate discovery and improve frontline services, Brain Canada is creating a trailblazing an open science research platform. This revolutionary and collaborative approach will efficiently link together researchers, stakeholders, clinicians, educators, youth with lived experience and their families, and the general population, to exchange findings and advance evidence-based discoveries.

Altogether, Brain Canada’s Mental Health Initiative goes beyond addressing the immediate needs of this national crisis. By including a variety of stakeholders, Brain Canada is building a representative community that will lay the groundwork for a healthier and more prosperous future where research into mental health and substance use is no longer scarce.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our strength and resilience as a community,” says Dr. Poupon. “But it has also provided us with an opportunity to remap our approach to mental health research and make informed and targeted investments where they matter most. The time to act is now.”

For more information on Brain Canada’s Mental Health Initiative, please visit