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Canadians’ Mental Health Remains Low Despite Signs of Re-Opening

TORONTO — Morneau Shepell — a provider of total well-being, mental health and digital mental-health services in Canada — released the second instalment of its monthly Mental Health Index report, showing a consistent negative mental-health score in the country. The findings show COVID-19 continues to have a negative impact on mental well-being, despite a slowing of infections and most provinces proceeding with a phased reopening.

The Mental Health Index for May showed a 12-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark of 75. May’s overall score is identical to the score in April, however, the sub-scores show a modest improvement in anxiety countered by a larger increase in isolation. The main factors contributing to poorer mental health in the month were anxiety (-14 points), depression (-13.9), work productivity (-13.5), optimism (-12.3) and isolation (-11.9) (negative scores indicate poorer mental health relative to the benchmark and a positive score indicates better mental health). Additionally, this is the second-consecutive month where Canadians report an increase in mental stress compared to the prior month. 

Morneau Shepell indicates the continuing low Mental Health Index score, plus the continued month-over-month increase in mental stress, raises concerns regarding the potential longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadians’ mental health.

“As we enter the third month since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, there are still many questions regarding the reopening of the economy and what lifted restrictions mean for Canadians,” says Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO, Morneau Shepell. “The continued compromise to Canadians’ mental health and well-being demonstrates there’s still much work to be done to help mitigate this critical dimension of the public-health crisis. As we start to see the end of the strict lockdowns, we need to remain vigilant about support for mental health and not take our eyes off that issue.”

Continuing the trend revealed in April, individuals who identify as female are more likely to report a negative impact to their mental health as a result of the pandemic, with an average score of -13.9 (compared to the -9.2 score for those who identify as male). Other populations at higher risk include those ages 20 to 29 and those in the lowest income bracket (under $30,000 per annum). 

The report also indicated maintaining employment does not protect mental health if salary is reduced. Those who maintained their income had the best mental-health scores (-9.4), while those who maintained employment, but with reduced salary, had the lowest scores (-15.4).

“Our Mental Health Index shows Canadians are struggling to cope with changes on how they socialize, work and maintain overall health and well-being,” says Paula Allen, SVP of Research, Analytics and Innovation, Morneau Shepell. “We also see certain factors make a difference: losing salary even if you keep your job; the support and recognition you get for your work; and the risks you face, whether your organization has an EAP. We need to continue to pay close attention to this evolving situation. With greater attention to mental health, and more support, we will hopefully see an improvement from the overall dire state.”

The ‘Accommodation and Foodservices’ industry was identified as having the month’s lowest mental-health scores, with a score of -16.8. Every industry has reported an increase in mental stress for two consecutive months.

Overall, 73 per cent of those surveyed indicated the COVID-19 pandemic specifically has had a negative impact on their mental health. About half of respondents (46 per cent) believe that although they feel a negative impact, they also feel they’ll be able to cope; 27 per cent indicate greater concern, with 12-per-cent indicating a very negative impact or crisis.

The report suggests, based on the index’s findings, businesses need to attend to the risk among employees. The current scores suggest a risk to the longer-term well-being of employees, which may impact business productivity, health costs and disability absence. 

“Businesses would do well to increase the focus on mental health through communication that increases the awareness of mental-health warning signs, campaigns to reduce the stigma of seeking mental-health support and the promotion of health plans and public resources,” the report states.

The complete report for May is available here

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