The pandemic has drastically disrupted all aspects of life, such as education, the family, and social life. As a result, anxiety, depression, and emergency department visits for drug overdoses and suicide attempts all rose, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between April 2020 and February 2021 compared with 2019 (Powell, 2021). In addition, mental health services in most countries were disrupted according to the WHO (2020).

From my own clinical practice, most of my cases can be attributed to failure to cope with increased stress, death of a loved one or good friend, and the classic existential anxieties from meaninglessness, loneliness, fear of making the wrong decision, and fear of death (Yalom, 1980). Some of my clients came to me for integrative meaning therapy (Wong, 2020) only after consulting psychiatrists and cognitive-behavioral oriented psychologists because they did not get the needed help for their existential dread.

What can we do to meet the unprecedented mental health needs in the era of COVID-19? One thing is clear – we have to expand out mental health services beyond the medical model to include less costly services. Some of the examples include mental health aid courses (Mental Health Commission of Canada, n.d.), mental health support group (Mood Disorders Society of Canada, n.d.) and community-based meetups for meaningful living (Wong, 2012). Moreover, government mental health funding policies need to recognize the important contributions from psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors.

Learning Objectives

In this symposium, participants will learn:

  1. The need for an alternative to the medical model in view of the mental health challenges of the pandemic.
  2. The importance of preventive measures, such as cultivating resilience and joy.
  3. The need to understand cultural differences, such as the different approaches to mental health in Asia
  4. The need to involve government policies at the highest level.

(This introduction was for the Summit on mental health at the International Network on Personal Meaning’s 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference, August 6-8, 2021, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.)


  1. Mental Health Commission of Canada. (n.d.). Mental health first aid. https://mhfa.ca/
  2. Mood Disorders Society of Canada. (n.d.). Caring for your mental health during COVID-19. https://mdsc.ca/?gclid=CjwKCAjw3MSHBhB3EiwAxcaEuyedDSsR0K3CwDHLsYLW99qVbtIpu7kqGFD1–Rt70EOkgu3wzhcGxoCYzoQAvD_BwE
  3. Powell, T. B. (2021, May 1). Mental health services struggled to meet increased demand during pandemic, study finds. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mental-health-services-struggled-to-meet-increased-demand-during-pandemic-study-finds/
  4. Wong, P. T. P. (2012, June 22). Giving positive psychology away: Meaningful living meetups. Positive Psychology News. https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/paul-wong/2012062222849
  5. Wong, P. T. P. (2020). Existential Positive Psychology and Integrative Meaning Therapy. International Review of Psychiatry. Doi: 10.1080/09540261.2020.1814703
  6. World Health Organization (2020, October 5). COVID-19 disrupting mental health services in most countries, WHO survey. https://www.who.int/news/item/05-10-2020-covid-19-disrupting-mental-health-services-in-most-countries-who-survey
  7. Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. Basic Books.


Wong, P. T. P. (2021, August 6-8). Meaning Conference 2021 summit symposium on mental health – introduction. In P. T. P. Wong (Chair), Mental Health [Symposium]. International Network on Personal Meaning 11th Biennial International Meaning Conference, Toronto, ON, Canada.