Canadians’ mental health linked to quality of employer support during COVID-19

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Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows 11-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark of 75

Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, showing a consistent negative mental health score in Canada for the third consecutive month. The findings show that while most of the country is entering new phases of reopening, Canadians continue to struggle with uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and need employer support now more than ever.

The Mental Health Index™ score is -11. The score measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75. This month’s overall score is one point higher than the score last month. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring the risk of anxiety (-12.9), depression (-12.7), work productivity (-12.1), optimism (-12.0) and isolation (-11.6). While the sub-scores remain low, there has been a modest improvement across these areas when compared to the prior month.

“As the country enters new phases of reopening and restrictions begin to ease, it’s important to remain focused on the mental health of Canadians and recognize that mental wellbeing requires the same attention and action as physical health,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “The long-term impact of continued low levels of mental health is not only a concern for individuals, but also for organizations and governments due to higher health and disability costs and the negative impact on individuals’ participation in the economy. It has been great to see organizations and governments expand mental health support in recent months, but our Mental Health Index™ tells us there is still more to do.”

Strong correlation between employer support and mental health

The level of mental health support an employer provides to employees is impacting Canadians’ mental wellbeing. More than one third (34 per cent) of respondents indicated that their employer has been supporting employee mental health inconsistently, poorly or very poorly during the pandemic. Mental Health Index™ scores for this group were -17.2 for those who indicated that mental health was supported inconsistently, -17.7 for those who indicated poor support and -26.3 for very poor support. This compares to -10.4 for those who stated mental health was supported somewhat well and -1.0 for very well.

These results demonstrate that employer support is of utmost importance, as an individual’s perception of how well their employer has addressed the mental health of employees has a strong link to their mental health. As the country continues to reopen, respondents that felt unsupported cited areas that employers could provide support, including clear guidance on how to prevent spreading or getting the virus (27 per cent) and support to deal with anxiety (23 per cent).

“Canadians have experienced consistent negative impacts to their mental health since the start of the pandemic. This is continuing as people go back to work and new stressors emerge,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “The reopening of the economy is a welcome and positive change for some, but for many others, re-entering the workplace is bringing up new uncertainties related to their safety and security. There is also more concern that things may never return to what we previously had and there is a lack of clarity about what work and life will be like. Employers need to continue to promote their wellbeing plan and resources for employees to seek support, while also looking for opportunities to show employees that their mental health is valued.”

Canadians unlikely to return to previous spending habits post-pandemic

This month’s Mental Health Index™ revealed that concerns over safety, job security and financial risk will change spending habits after the pandemic. Among respondents, only 19 per cent cited being likely to return to previous spending habits following COVID-19. There are a number of barriers for those who are hesitant to return to previous spending habit: 39 per cent are concerned about the risk of infection from being in stores and service areas, 27 per cent feel they will be concerned about job security for a while and 22 per cent indicate that their income has changed since the pandemic began.

The data shows that the mix of physical distancing, self-isolation and closure of some businesses is changing the way Canadians perceive spending on non-essential items. The likelihood of individuals frequenting brick-and-mortar locations following the pandemic is decreasing, as what was once a luxury for many is now being viewed as a threat to health, safety and personal finances.   

“The future of the economy remains uncertain, despite businesses reopening across the country,” said Allen. “Our Mental Health Index™ shows that Canadians are holding onto funds much tighter than before the pandemic and are proceeding with caution when it comes to their disposable income. We need to pay close attention to the mental health impact that the current economy has on Canadians, to ensure their physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing remain strong following the pandemic and in the years to come.”

About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English and French from May 29 to June 9, 2020, with 3,000 respondents in Canada. All respondents reside in Canada and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The margins of error for the survey are +/- 3.2 per cent, valid 19 times out of 20. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The full Canadian report can be found at https://www.morneaushepell.com/permafiles/92827/mental-health-index-report-canada-june-2020.pdf.

SOURCE Morneau Shepell Inc.