Stigma Deterring Canadians From Revealing Mental Health Issues To Colleagues and Friends

  • Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index shows that depression continues to impact Canadians’ wellbeing at alarming rate

Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index report, revealing a negative mental health score among Canadians for the eleventh consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for February is -11.5, indicating a continued decline in mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The February score is slightly higher than January (-11.7) and the same as May 2020. In February, the lowest sub-score is depression (-13.9), which is slightly lower than January (-13.4) and nearly identical to the outset of the pandemic (-14.0 in April 2020). This highlights the damaging impact that continued stress and mental strain are having on Canadians’ overall health, which has the potential to result in significant harm if left unaddressed.

“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,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “Uncertainty about immunization timelines has left Canadians questioning when they will be able to return to the routines they had in place before the pandemic. 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.”

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Canadians concerned that revealing mental health issues will impact workplace and personal relationships

Mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many Canadians, despite increased efforts to reduce the associated stigma. The research found that 44 per cent of Canadians believe that their career options would be limited if their employer was aware that they had a mental health issue. Within this group, half of managers (50 per cent) anticipate their career would be impacted if their employer knew of a mental health issue, compared to 39 per cent of non-managers. Mental health also continues to be an uncomfortable topic to broach with friends, with 37 per cent of respondents indicating that they believe they would be treated differently if their friends learned they had a mental health issue.

When broken out by age, young Canadians reported being more concerned about limited career options after revealing they are struggling with a mental health issue than older demographics (54 per cent among individuals aged 20 to 29, improving with age to 38 per cent among those 60 and above).

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Canadians with declining wellbeing relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms

The continued pandemic-driven strain on mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing has led some Canadians to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the cumulative stress and uncertainty, such as increased alcohol consumption. The research found that 14 per cent of respondents increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic (March to May 2020), and more than half of respondents (52 per cent) reported that they have maintained the same level of alcohol consumption in recent months (October 2020 to January 2021) when compared to early in the pandemic. An additional nine per cent of respondents indicated that alcohol consumption has increased from October 2020 to January 2021, when compared with early in the pandemic.

Individuals who reported increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic also reported the lowest mental health score (-20.7) when compared to those who do not drink (-9.9), or those who decreased their alcohol consumption (-12.8).

“If organizations had any question as to whether implementing a holistic mental health strategy would benefit employees, we hope our data makes this clear. 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,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “The pandemic has presented employers with an opportunity to build trust with their employees and improve retention for the long term, by providing the support they need to not only overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic. The pandemic has made it clear that the wellbeing of Canadian workers is a priority.”

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