CIHR Operating Grant: COVID-19 Mental Health and Substance Use Service Needs and Delivery


The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) with the CIHR Institute of Aging and CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, in partnership with the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS), the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation

For More Information

For additional information, please visit the program's websites for

  • Program guidelines
  • Application forms
  • Evaluation criteria


This funding opportunity is part of the Government of Canada's continued rapid response to address the major health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding will be provided through multiple competitions designed to address mental health and substance use issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the intentional and unintentional effects of the public health measures to contain and mitigate its impact.

This rapid response operating grant funding aims to more explicitly address the specific mental health and/or substance use crisis response needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and/or the strategies to contain and mitigate its impact. As with the previous funding opportunity, this includes the mental health and substance use impacts caused by prolonged periods of social isolation, unexpected employment disruptions, increased vulnerability of older adults, school closures, financial distress, and changes to routine, among others. Moreover, this funding also aims to help prepare the mental health and/or substance use health care systems for the COVID-19 post-pandemic future, including additional, unexpected crises.  

Key to all the short-term studies supported through this funding opportunity is establishing an evidence base for follow-on implementation science approaches. Research findings developed through this rapid response funding opportunity must be timely, innovative, and have clear linkages to both policies/services and established needs.

For all research priority areas, eligible target populations will include both the general population (including First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, including urban/rural/off-reserve Indigenous populations) and vulnerable/at-risk groups. Please see Additional Information for a non-exclusive list of priority populations.

Research Areas

Applications must be related to mental health and/or substance use AND respond to at least one of the following 12 defined research area subtopics. The 12 subtopics are grouped under three defined research areas, as listed below.

  1. Understanding Rapid System Transformations

    ​This research area seeks to understand the COVID-19 pandemic-related rapid system transformations in mental health and/or substance use services, by evaluating the ongoing health, social and economic impact of:
    1. Mental health and/or substance use services transformation (e.g. barriers to care delivery, transition to virtual mental health care, uptake and experiences of individuals receiving virtual care, development and implementation of tools for delivery for virtual care) on both service providers and those receiving care.
    2. Altered access to services (e.g. changes in access to primary care and emergency services, including community-based services, shift to emergency shelters from supervised drug consumption sites) on both service providers and those receiving care.
    3. COVID-19-specific interventions aimed to support mental health, promote mental wellness and resilience, and/or prevent problematic substance use (e.g. crisis supports, virtual care apps, and other social supports) at regional, provincial, territorial and/or pan-Canadian implementation levels.
    4. Access to culturally safe mental health treatment, care and support to First Nations, Inuit and/or Métis Peoples including urban/rural/off-reserve, homeless, marginally housed, and/or transient Indigenous populations.
  2. Developing Innovative Adaptations of Services and/or Delivery

    ​This research area seeks to support the development of innovative adaptations of mental health and/or substance use services and/or delivery/access, in response to the specific crisis circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, through:
    1. Innovative adaptations of delivery/access approaches or interventions/supports (services) for mental health and/or substance use, including the promotion of mental wellness.
    2. Innovative solutions for strengthening adaptive mental health and/or substance use care system capacity and flexibility through service delivery training and capacity building.
    3. Novel approaches for integrating mental health and substance use care systems with each other, and/or with other primary, secondary, and tertiary care systems for other chronic conditions.
    4. Innovative approaches to spread, scale and implement evidence-based mental health and/or substance use interventions adapted for COVID-19.
    5. Innovative adaptation of mental health and wellness services/programs that are accessible, acceptable and culturally safe to Indigenous Peoples and, particularly, to those who face multiple vulnerabilities (e.g. Elders, women who are exposed to violence, people who use drugs and substances, gender diverse individuals).
  3. Matching Access to Service with Needs

    ​This research area seeks to develop equitable and effective care delivery for people with mental health and/or substance use issues during the COVID-19 pandemic by better matching access to service with needs, and by helping prepare the mental health and/or substance use care systems for longer-term shifts in service by:
    1. Developing and testing novel/innovative approaches/methods to track the prevalence/incidence/rates of mental health and/or substance use, and identifying where existing mental health services exist (across communities/provinces/territories/regions) whose access could be matched to highest needs.
    2. Developing and testing novel/innovative approaches to delivering mental health and/or substance use services, in real-time, and considering access to health care services in hospitals and/or in community settings (including specific priority populations) over time (e.g. learning health systems).
    3. Developing more equitable and effective matching of access to social and health related services with mental health and/or substance use needs of people during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  1. The Nominated Principal Applicant must be an independent researcher.
  2. The Nominated Principal Applicant must be appointed at an eligible institution (see the CIHR Application Administration Guide – Part 4).
  3. At least one project participant, other than the Nominated Principal Applicant, must be a knowledge user.
  4. For applications involving Indigenous Peoples, the research team must include at least one Principal Applicant who self-identifies as Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit or Métis) and/or demonstrates a track record of meaningful and culturally safe involvement with Indigenous Peoples. See How to Apply section for more details

Funding Availability

Approximately $10.27M of funding is available.

Maximum Project Value

Maximum of $200,000 per grant.

Indirect Costs


Project Duration

One year

Special Notes

Please refer to the Office of Research COVID 19 web-page for directives related to research activities at the University of Guelph.


If College-level review is required, your College will communicate its earlier internal deadlines.

External Deadline

Registration:  NPA to complete your Registration, follow the instructions in the Grants - Registration Guidelines, along with any additional instructions found below under “Specific Instructions”.

NPA to submit registration via on line application system: ResearchNet

Internal Deadline

Application: NPA to submit a copy of application, routing slip and signature pages along with a complete OR5 form to:

External Deadline

Application: NPA to complete your Full Application, follow the instructions in the Grants – Application Guidelines along with any additional instructions found in the guidelines under "Specific Instructions". 

NPA to submit application via on line application system ResearchNet

All participants listed, with the exception of Collaborators, are required to:

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