COVID-19 and Mental Health (CMH) Initiative: Research

Harnessing Digital Mental Health to Improve Equity in Mental Health Care in the Context of COVID-19: Needs, Best-practices and Opportunities in the Asia Pacific Region

Key Messages

  • Several groups across the Asia Pacific region are at higher risk of the negative mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and may experience more barriers to accessing digital and virtual care
  • Challenges include interruptions in standard mental health care, lack of access to culturally or linguistically appropriate care, barriers to accessing digital technology or the Internet, and persistent health and socioeconomic inequalities.
  • Recommendations include involving at-risk groups in consultations about planning for mental health care, improving accessible options (e.g. multiple languages, format and platforms) for digital and virtual care, investing in research on the effectiveness of digital and virtual care for at-risk groups, and addressing the underlying socioeconomic contributors to poor mental health

Lay Summary

The knowledge synthesis identified several groups that are at higher risk of the negative mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from across the Asia Pacific region. These include: people with existing mental illness, healthcare workers, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), older adults, migrants (including refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers and international students), victims of domestic violence, people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities. Research into the effects on other groups, including people living with HIV, women and girls, LGBTQIA+ people and incarcerated people is warranted.

Challenges facing at-risk groups in terms of mental health and access to mental health care include the interruption in standard mental health and support services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental health impact of physical distancing and self-isolation may be profound for at-risk groups. Many at-risk groups may also lack access to care in their own language or that is appropriate for their culture. Though care has largely shifted towards digital (e.g. apps or Internet-based care) or other types of virtual care (e.g. via telephone), many at-risk groups may lack access to digital technologies or Internet access. Finally, many groups are at-risk due to persistent socioeconomic inequalities, including poverty, stigma and discrimination.

To address these challenges, it is recommended that representatives of at-risk groups be included in consultations to plan for mental health care. Ensuring that care, including digital and virtual care, is accessible is also essential. This includes ensuring that care is delivered in multiple languages, through various platforms (e.g. Smartphones and landlines), and in various formats (e.g. not just written text, large font, etc.). Research is needed to test the effectiveness of digital mental health interventions among at-risk groups. Finally, in the long term, research and policy must address the underlying socioeconomic inequalities that contribute to poor mental health among at-risk groups.


  • Mental health
  • Digital health
  • Virtual mental health care
  • At-risk groups
  • Vulnerable populations
  • Asia-Pacific
  • Equity
  • Psychosocial risk factors
  • COVID-19
  • Rapid review


  • Nominated Principal Applicant: Dr. Raymond Lam, Professor and BC Leadership Chair in Depression Research; Associate Head for Graduate and Undergraduate Education, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia; Director, Mood Disorders Centre, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health; Executive Director, APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health.
  • Dr. Jill Murphy, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Raymond Lam, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Erin Michalak, University of British Columbia
  • Amna Khan, University of British Columbia

For more information, please contact: Dr. Jill Murphy,

Related Syntheses


Full PDF


General Population


To ensure the rapid dissemination of this critical information, information is published in the language in which it was submitted. Please contact us for French or English translations.

Date modified: