OASW Press Release: Poll Uncovers Surprising New Data on COVID's Far-Reaching Mental Health Impacts
Research also shows barriers, frustration accessing mental health care

March 8, 2023

Two thirds, or 66 per cent, of Ontario women between the ages of 18 and 35 are living with a mental health condition, according to a new poll released today. 

That group includes 34 per cent of women who believe they have an undiagnosed mental health condition and another 32 per cent who report being diagnosed, according to the poll.

"This is an alarming situation. We should all sit up and take notice," said Dr. Deepy Sur, CEO of the Ontario Association of Social Workers, which commissioned the poll. "This age group consists of women who are finishing school, building careers and potentially having children for the first time. When you add the social isolation and difficulties accessing support services over the past few years of the pandemic, it's made young women more vulnerable to loneliness and stress. Women are also more likely to have been on the front lines of the pandemic in health care, essential services and in caregiving roles." 

According to the poll, young adults are more likely to report barriers to accessing mental health support, such as long wait lists, high cost, or not knowing where to begin to find support. They are also more likely to say that their mental health has declined within the past year or that they have experienced a mental health crisis that required urgent care.

Overall, the poll found that almost one quarter of Ontarians, or 24 per cent, have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, while an additional 21 per cent believe they have an undiagnosed condition.

Fully one quarter of respondents, or 25 per cent, said their mental health has worsened over the past year.

The online poll, by Innovative Research Group, sampled 1,265 Ontarians aged 18 and over from February 17 to 20. It is weighted by age, gender and region to reflect Ontario's actual population according to Census data.

The poll coincides with Social Work Week, which is spotlighting the profession's role in mobilizing mental health access for all Ontarians. There are more than 22,000 Registered Social Workers in Ontario. They are the largest group of mental health providers in the province and support people daily in navigating complex systems.

The poll data demonstrates the need for guidance in accessing mental health treatment. Of those who were unable to access treatment or thought about accessing treatment but did not try, 72 per cent said they would be more likely to access mental health supports if there was someone to help guide them.

Overall, the poll showed that a majority, or 60 per cent, of those who sought out mental health supports were frustrated with the experience. That number was higher among women aged 18-34, with 73 per cent saying their experience was either frustrating or extremely frustrating.

"Social workers support, guide, connect and provide treatment for people with mental health conditions," said Sur. "Every day our members on the front lines of the mental health crisis report that people are struggling to access help. This data makes it clear just how important that role is."

Other notable findings in the poll:

  • A strong majority, or 82 per cent of respondents, believe it is important for mental health providers to have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, including diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as diverse gender identities.
  • The lowest-income Ontarians are least likely, at 27 per cent, to have accessed mental health supports over the past year.
  • Half of Ontarians would be more likely to access mental health supports if they were covered by their employers' benefits programs.
  • Among those who tried to access help but were unable to, waitlists were the number one concern (60 per cent).
  • Three in five people, or 57 per cent, said they would turn to their family doctor if they were experiencing a mental health crisis.

"This poll should serve as a wake-up call," said Sur. "Getting help is not always as easy as phoning up a mental health professional. We need to meet people where they're at, and intervene early when they first experience mental health challenges. That means adding more social workers in schools, hospitals, primary health care, long-term care homes and community care. We need more government funding to do that."

The poll report can be accessed at: www.innovativeresearch.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/OASW-2023-FINAL-Report-public.pdf

This release is also available on Canada Newswire

For further information or to schedule an interview with Deepy Sur, please contact:

Lisa Timoshenko
[email protected]

About OASW
OASW is the voice of social work in Ontario. It is a voluntary, bilingual, non-profit association representing approximately 8,500 social workers. All members have a university degree in social work at the bachelor, master or doctoral level. OASW works to actively speak on behalf of social workers on issues of interest to the profession and advocates for the improvement of social policies and programs directly affecting social work practice and client groups served.