Sense of mastery: A psychological resource during the COVID-19 pandemic

Download the alternative format
(PDF format, 342 Kb, 1 page)

Sense of mastery is the perception that the forces that influence one's own life are under one's own control.Footnote 1 It is included as a determinant of positive mental health by the Public Health Agency of Canada.Footnote 2

People with a high sense of mastery agree with statements like "You can do just about anything you really set your mind to," and disagree with statements like "There is little you can do to change many of the important things in your life."

The COVID-19 pandemic had disproportionate impacts on the life circumstances and health of different populations in Canada. Adults with high mastery were 50% less likely to report that their mental health was worse during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to those with lower mastery.Footnote 3

High sense of mastery was more common among:

  • men (35%) than women (31%)
  • non-immigrants (34%) than immigrants (30%)
  • high-income households (41%) than low-income households (26%)
  • adults aged 35 years and older (35%) than adults aged 18 to 34 years (28%)
  • non-racialized individuals (35%) than individuals from racialized groupsFootnote 4 (27%)


Having a high sense of mastery was a protective factor of mental health among adults in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disparities in the sense of mastery across different populations may arise from differences in life circumstances and socioeconomic inequalities, which could foster feelings of powerlessness.

Although some aspects of life may be out of our control, there are things we can do to improve our sense of mastery and our well-being more generally; some examples are listed on the Promoting positive mental health webpage.

The surveillance data presented here on sense of mastery could help inform additional public health interventions to strengthen people's coping skills, reduce mental health disparities, and protect adults in Canada from the detrimental psychological impact of life's stressful events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental health resources are available

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs mental health and substance use support, there are a wide range of resources and supports available on Wellness Together Canada and the Mental health support webpage.

More information about the data

The data were collected by Statistics Canada with the Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health in late 2020Footnote 5 and early 2021Footnote 6 from adults living in the 3 territorial capitals and the 10 provinces in Canada. Data on sense of mastery immediately preceding the pandemic were unavailable for comparison.

Page details

Date modified: