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Mental health remains low despite signs of re-opening

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Mental health remains low – Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services in Canada, today released the second of its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, showing a consistent negative mental health score in the country. The findings show that COVID-19 continues to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, 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. This month’s overall score is identical to the score last month, 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 (-14.0 points), depression (-13.9), work productivity (-13.5), optimism (-12.3) and isolation (-11.9). Additionally, this is the second consecutive month where Canadians report an increase in mental stress compared to the prior month. 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. 

Across the country, we see some modest improvement in the Mental Health Index™ in Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritimes and Saskatchewan, and declines in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. British Columbia had the most significant increase in stress compared to the prior month, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the lowest increases. 

“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,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “The continued compromise to Canadians’ mental health and wellbeing demonstrates that there is 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 lock-downs, 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 aged 20-29 and those in the lowest income bracket (under $30,000 per annum). Among households, those with one child scored -13.7 and those with three or more children scored -9.2 on the Mental Health Index™. Comparatively, households with no children scored -10.7. For those with access to an employee assistance program either directly or through their partner, respondents reported better mental health (-10.7) compared to those who did not have access (-12.4).

Maintaining employment does not protect mental health if salary is reduced
Sixty-one per cent of Canadians indicated that they remained employed at the same income level. Twenty-eight per cent of Canadians indicated either a reduction in hours or salary. Meanwhile, those who maintained their income had the best mental health scores (-9.4). Those who maintained employment, but with reduced salary had the lowest scores (-15.4)

In considering industry, those in healthcare fared slightly better in terms of mental health than the population overall (-11 vs -12). While the stressors in this sector are undeniable, the support and recognition shown by the general public may be softening its impact. 

“Our Mental Health Index™ shows that Canadians are struggling to cope with changes on how they socialize, work and maintain overall health and wellbeing,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “We also see that 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.”

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