Younger Americans Are Most Concerned About the Impact of Mental Health Stigma on Career Options

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows early signs of a recovery in Americans’ mental wellbeing, led by improvements in financial risk

Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services,  released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental health score among Americans for the eleventh consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for February is -5.2, indicating a continued decline in mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The February score is considerably higher than January (-7.6) and similar to the highest score in July 2020 (-5.1). In February, all Mental Health Index™ sub-scores improved from the previous month, with depression, anxiety, work productivity and isolation all increasing by more than two full points when compared to January. The strongest of all sub-scores continues to be financial risk, which increased from +5.2 in January to +9.8 in February. This indicates that the rapid vaccine rollout and projections for an expedited economic recovery are contributing to Americans newfound optimism for their financial state.

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“Americans have navigated through unparalleled challenges brought on by the pandemic over the past year, with employees feeling heightened levels of anxiety and stress. While efforts made by the government to expedite vaccination rollout and ease restrictions in several states appear to be contributing to slight improvements in Americans’ wellbeing, it’s important to recognize that the mental health crisis we’re facing is far from over. Anxiety, depression and isolation are still sitting well below the pre-pandemic benchmark,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “People leaders have a responsibility to strengthen the support they are providing to their teams in this new stage of the pandemic and balance optimism about the future with regular and transparent communication.”

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

Mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many Americans, despite increased efforts to reduce the associated stigma. The research found that 41 percent of Americans 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 percent) believe their career would be impacted if their employer knew of a mental health issue, compared to 35 percent of non-managers. Mental health also continues to be an uncomfortable topic for many people to broach with friends, with 35 percent 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 Americans reported being more concerned about limited career options after revealing they are struggling with a mental health issue than older demographics (54 percent of respondents aged 20 to 29, improving with age to 33 percent among those 60 and above).

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Americans with declining wellbeing relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms

The continued pandemic-driven strain on mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing has led some Americans to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the cumulative stress and uncertainty, such as increased alcohol consumption. The research found that 14 percent of respondents increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic (March to May 2020) and nearly half of respondents (45 percent) 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 eight percent 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 (-15.5) when compared to those who do not drink (-2.3), or those who decreased their alcohol consumption (-7.7).

“Even if one does not have a stigmatizing mindset, there is no immunity against that mindset in others,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “It is concerning that workplace stigma is more prevalent than community or any other kind of mental-health stigma. Add to that the fact that remote work has caused significant mental strain for many Americans throughout the pandemic, regardless of whether they struggled with mental health concerns previously. The sense of belonging and acceptance in a workplace can become fragile over the period of remote work, so organizations and leaders need to communicate and show concern about individual wellbeing and address issues of stigma to help counter this.”

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