On April 18th, 2020, Chinese and Canadian mental health experts convened in an online Mental Health Summit to discuss the mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as challenges for mental health care service delivery. 

The summit, initiated by Prof. Yifeng Xu, the director of the Shanghai Mental Health Center in China, and Prof. Jitender Sareen, the Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba in Canada, convened Chinese experts from top psychiatric institutions in China, including the Shanghai Mental Health Center (Prof. Min Zhao, Prof. Zhen Wang, Prof. Jianying Qiu, Prof. Daihui Peng, Prof. Jun Chen, Dr. Jianhua Chen, and Dr. Hao Yao), the Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University (Prof. Xiaoping Wang), the People’s Hospital of Wuhan University (Prof. Zhongchun Liu) and the First Affiliated Hospital of Medical School of Zhejiang University (Prof. Shaohua Hu). On the Canadian side, experts joined from the University of British Columbia (Prof. Lakshmi Yatham and Prof. Raymond Lam, the University of Calgary (Prof. Valerie H. Taylor), the University of Alberta (Prof. Xinmin Li), Queen’s University (Prof. Claudio N Soares), and the University of Ottawa (Prof. Jianli Wang).

In the meeting, participants exchanged their professional experiences in combatting the pandemic, common psychological issues faced by public and medical staff, and corresponding interventions. The mental health service response in China has involved clinical practice on hospital wards, online consultations, mental health hotlines, and public mental health education. Notably, digital mental health service has been widely used during the pandemic.

Despite the effectiveness of measures taken in both countries, experts also identfied several challenges facing mental health service provision during the pandemic, including:

  1. Involuntary treatment and referrals;
  2. Increases in substance use;
  3. Recurrence of mental disorders;
  4. Crisis intervention for suicide;
  5. Differential diagnosis and focusing on mental illness caused by the pandemic;
  6. Cross-infection in clinical settings;
  7. Mental health services for low-income populations in developing areas; and
  8. Public mental health services in the later stages of the epidemic.

Experts conclused that China and Canada should establish a multi-channel communication system to share clinical experience and knowledge during the pandemic and beyond, working together to tackle challenges and promote further development of equitable and accessible mental health services for all.

Experts from China and Canada attended the Mental Health Summit: "Service Challenges during the COVID-19 Pandemic."