Canadians’ Mental Health Continues to Deteriorate Amid Pandemic, yet Most Keep Issues to Themselves

March 24, 2021 Updated: March 25, 2021

A new report says Canadians’ mental health has continued to turn up negative scores amid the COVID-19 pandemic, yet most keep their health conditions concealed from colleagues for fear of hurting their careers.

The report (pdf), published Tuesday by Morneau Shepell, a human resource consulting company, said February marks the eleventh consecutive month of diminishing mental health among Canadians since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Starting April 2020, Morneau Shepell began publishing a monthly review called the Mental Health Index to track the mental health status of working adults amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

COVID-19 is the disease the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus causes.

Canada’s February score (-11.5) on the Index improves slightly when compared to January (-11.7), but is equal to May 2020. In February, the lowest sub-score is depression (-13.9), which is slightly lower than January (-13.4) and close to the score at the beginning of the pandemic (-14.0 in April 2020).

The data was collected through an online survey of 3,000 Canadians across the country who are currently employed or who were employed within the past six months. The Mental Health Index first creates a response scoring system which turns the respondents’ answer into a point value. The Mental Health Index is benchmarked against the data in 2017, 2018, and 2019. To demonstrate the month-by-month changes, the current month’s scores are compared with the benchmark and also with the previous month.

Higher point values indicate better mental health and lower mental health risk. Each individual’s scores are added and then divided by the total number of possible points to get a score out of 100. A score of zero in the Mental Health Index reflects no change, positive scores reflect improvement, and negative scores reflect decline.

“The extreme isolation and loneliness that we reported in recent months is having a direct impact on Canadians’ mental wellbeing, with many people feeling the same level of depression that was reported almost one year ago when it was at its lowest point,” Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer of Morneau Shepell, said in a news release on Tuesday.

The February report shows the overall working population in Canada is as distressed as the most distressed one percent of employed Canadians prior to 2020.

Roughly 24 percent of the population that reports being more distressed than the previous month, while a majority of 70 percent says they are experiencing the same level of distress as the previous month. Only six percent of the people reports less stress.

Despite increasing depression, a large number of employed Canadians remain reluctant to open up about their mental health to a colleague. The report shows that 44 percent of Canadians believe that their career options would be limited if their employer become aware of their mental health issues.

Notably, among the group, half of the individuals in management positions said they anticipated an impact to their careers if their employer knew of their struggle with mental health, while 39 percent of non-managers said they felt the same way.

Outside of the work environment, Canadians also said they felt awkward telling friends about their mental health issues, with 37 percent of the respondents believing they would be treated differently if their friends learned of their mental health problems.

Broken down by age groups, young Canadians (54 percent among those aged 20 to 29) are more fearful of obstructions in career options than older demographics (38 percent among those aged 60 and above) if they disclose their struggles with mental health.

Liptrap said the uncertainty about a vaccination timeline makes it difficult for Canadians to plan their future routines and return to their ordinary life.

“Through these times of prolonged uncertainty and isolation, organizations have an added responsibility to pay close attention to their team members’ needs and watch for indicators of worsening mental strain, to ensure employees are set up for success both within and outside of the workplace,” Liptrap said.

On the bright side, the pandemic has presented a great opportunity for employers to build trust with their employees by providing the support they need to get through the crisis, said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president at Morneau Shepell.

“It’s evident that while employees may not reveal they are struggling with their mental health, many are struggling in silence and coping in ways that do more harm than good,” Shepell said. “The pandemic has made it clear that the wellbeing of Canadian workers is a priority.”