Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index reveals negative score in Canada

Morneau Shepell released its monthly Mental Health Index report, revealing 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 measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75. Sitting at -11, 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.”

According to the report, 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.

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).

“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,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “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.”

This month’s Mental Health Index also 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.

“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,” said Allen. “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.”