Canadians' Mental Health Declines in August, Reversing the Trend of Improvement Since April

As we navigate several uncertainties over the coming weeks, it's critical that all Canadians continue to be accountable for their health, maintain open communication, and actively invest in their own mental wellbeing.

Canadians' Mental Health Declines in August, Reversing the Trend of Improvement Since April

Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, showing a consistent negative mental health score for the fifth consecutive month and a decline from July's score of -10. The findings indicate that Canadians' mental health continues to be affected by the impact of COVID-19, including concerns about a second wave, ongoing economic uncertainties, and the added concern of students returning to school.

The Mental Health Index™ score is -11. The score measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring the risk of anxiety (-12.9), depression (-12.7), optimism (-12.7), isolation (-12.1) and work productivity (-11.1). All sub-scores worsened when compared to the improvements seen the previous month, excluding work productivity, which remains unchanged.

"The financial and economic impact of the pandemic can't be ignored, however, there also needs to be more attention to the ongoing toll the pandemic is having on the mental wellbeing of Canadians. This decline is cause for concern," said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. "Canadians' initial feelings of optimism as we started to reopen does not erase the impact of the pandemic. To avoid further declines, public health officials and all levels of government must take the necessary steps to provide support where it's needed most and continue to put the mental health of Canadians first."

Back-to-school anxieties heightened as a result of the pandemic

Safely reopening schools and getting children back into the classroom has been top-of-mind for parents, teachers and youth across the country in recent weeks. The Mental Health Index™ found the mental health scores of individuals with one (-15.2) or two (-13.0) children are significantly lower than those with none (-9.9). Surprisingly, individuals with a full house appear to have adapted well to the pandemic; a score of -8.6 was reported among those with three children or more. 

The mental health of those working in the education sector declined to -11.6 from a score of -11.1 in July. Post-secondary students have the largest drop of any group, decreasing from -23.7 to -28.5. Post-secondary students have also consistently had the lowest score of any group when compared to all industries across the country.

"September will be a particularly difficult month for Canadians, as they face another major change in routine and new challenges," said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. "As we navigate several uncertainties over the coming weeks, it's critical that all Canadians continue to be accountable for their health, maintain open communication, and actively invest in their own mental wellbeing."

Paradigm shifts from concern over work and finances, to anxieties about personal life

The "new normal" has become a household term since the pandemic began, however, Canadians are still having difficultly adapting to their new routines. When considering the areas that have been most challenging, the Mental Health Index™ found that adjusting to changes in one's personal life was more difficult than in their work life or finances. Thirty-four per cent of respondents stated they were undecided or felt they had adapted poorly to changes in their personal life or routine, and 30 per cent believed they had adapted badly to both changes in work and finances respectively.

The results show that while the first few months of the pandemic brought forward many questions about employment and financial security, the paradigm has now shifted. Canadians have begun to regain some control in areas that were initially challenging and instead, are now facing increasing insecurities in their day-to-day life as restrictions ease across the country and isolated outbreaks occur. Despite respondents saving more and feeling more in control over finances, the most commonly reported concern of Canadians remains the pandemic's ongoing impact on finances and the economy (49 per cent).

"While the economy continues to be top-of-mind for all Canadians, those who indicate high levels of uncertainty (-26.8) and those who most believe we will not return to a pre-pandemic state (-19.6), have the lowest scores. It is important to understand that even as some people are adapting, others are not," said Allen. "The importance of collective responsibility goes well beyond wearing a mask in public. We each need to look for changes in our friends and family, and offer support for those needing professional help."

About the Mental Health Index

The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English and French from July 21 to July 31, 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 Canada report can be found at: https://www.morneaushepell.com/permafiles/92996/mental-health-index-report-canada-august-2020.pdf

About Morneau Shepell

Morneau Shepell is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in 162 countries. Morneau Shepell is a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: MSI). For more information, visit morneaushepell.com.