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Americans Experiencing an Epidemic of Isolation

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows that mental health of Americans continues to be affected by isolation

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 Americans for the tenth consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for January is -7.6, indicating a continued decline in mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark and a slight increase from December (-7.9).

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The decline in Americans’ mental health is due in large part to continued struggles with isolation. In January, the sub-score for isolation was relatively unchanged from December (-8.9 in January 2021 vs. -9.0 in December 2020), when it reached its lowest point since the inception of the Index™ in April 2020. This indicates that extended restrictions and prolonged physical distancing measures are having a detrimental impact on Americans’ mental health.

“The pandemic has caused significant turmoil across the United States, leaving many Americans with an extremely heightened sense of isolation. Regardless of the state of the pandemic in each region, isolation is collectively affecting Americans at an alarming rate,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “As Americans continue adapting to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, maintaining a positive mindset is becoming increasingly important, yet all the more difficult for those feeling disconnected from loved ones. It is essential that employers implement both short- and long-term wellbeing strategies to ensure employees know support is available and they are not alone.”

Full-time post-secondary students report the lowest mental health score
The pandemic has presented tremendous challenges to full-time post-secondary students, requiring them adapt to a virtual learning environment regardless of if they were equipped with the appropriate resources. Compounded by ongoing inconsistencies and ever-evolving restrictions in the virtual learning environment, this has led to full-time post-secondary students reporting the lowest mental health score (-22.5) when compared to individuals across all industry sectors for the tenth consecutive month.

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Furthermore, full-time post-secondary students are experiencing the most significant increase in mental stress compared to other industries tracked by the Mental Health Index™. Beyond the challenges of today, the pandemic has also exacerbated many pre-existing risks for students, such as concern about employment following graduation and financial instability.

Young Americans changing priorities to focus on mental health
As Americans continue to manage their daily lives and establish new routines to stay well through the pandemic, many are rethinking their priorities. Twenty-eight percent of working Americans collectively reported wanting to place more focus on their mental health, indicating a heightened awareness of the importance of a healthy mindset. Priorities vary across generations, however, with individuals between the ages of 20 and 29 nearly twice as likely to report wanting to focus on their mental health when compared to those over the age of 60. In comparison, respondents over the age of 60 are 50 percent more likely to want to focus on their physical health than those between the ages of 20 and 29.

“It’s easy to let our attention on mental health fade into the background, especially as positive developments for vaccinations bring forward optimism about our future. That said, thirty-five percent of working Americans are concerned about the mental health of a co-worker. This reinforces that we still have a problem, but it is encouraging in that we are able to connect enough to recognize the need in others,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “It is important for us not to ignore when we see someone in distress. Show you care, tell them what you have seen that is causing concern and let them know about the support available through an employee assistance program or other resources for counseling.”

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