Put aside the economy for a moment — the pandemic is taking an emotional toll on Canadians. Being cooped up mostly at home and with limited interaction with family and friends is sapping their energy and leading to a mental crisis, according to a new survey.
Morneau Shepell’s latest Mental Health Index underscores the ongoing impact of COVID-19 remains a drag on Canadians’ mental health.
“July marks the fifth month since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and Canadians began experiencing a collective mental health crisis,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer of Morneau Shepell, a human resources services company.
“While many businesses, amenities and public spaces have reopened and a slight sense of normalcy has started to emerge across the country, our Mental Health Index shows that improving mental well-being takes time. In addition to restarting the Canadian economy, it’s critical that organizations and governments continue to be vigilant in providing mental health support.”
The stress is evident every where. From a simple visit to a grocery store, to the dread of returning to work, managing and schooling children at home, and the anxiety facing many who brave public transportation to work in the office every day — Canadians’ mental health is being taxed on a number of fronts.
The overall Mental Health Index for July 2020 was -10 points (versus -11 in June), with individuals without emergency savings experiencing a lower mental health score (-23.4 points) than the overall group. Individuals with an emergency fund have an average mental health score of -5.4 points, the survey noted. Women (-11.9) had a lower mental health score than men (-8.8). A score of zero in the Mental Health Index reflects no change, positive scores reflect improvement, and negative scores reflect decline.
Nine per cent of respondents to the Morneau Sheppell survey of 3,000 Canadians were unemployed, while 22 per cent report reduced hours or a reduced salary since April 2020.
“Individuals reporting reduced salary when compared to the prior month continue to have the lowest mental health score (-19.1), followed by individuals employed fewer hours compared to the prior month (-16.2), and those not currently employed (-16.0),” the survey noted. “Individuals reporting as self-employed/sole proprietor have the highest mental health score (-5.5), followed by individuals employed in organizations with 1,001-5,000 employees (-7.6).”
In terms of provinces, Ontarians were the most stressed, followed by those in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, while respondents living in the other provinces also saw significant uptick in stress despite improving conditions. Across Canada, 14 per cent felt their personal relationships have become more strained during the pandemic.
Workers in the accommodation and food services were the most stressed, followed by those in agriculture and forestry and full-time students.
RACISM IN CANADA
The Morneau Shepell survey also examined another key source of stress in Canada on top of the pandemic. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents think racism is a problem in Canada, but only 20 per cent believe that it’s a problem in their workplace.
“When considering the results by race, 80 per cent of individuals identifying as Black strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their country, followed by 79 per cent of South Asian as well as Latin, South or Central American. Comparatively, 65 per cent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their country,” the survey noted.
May and June saw a decline in mental health scores for all racial groups except White (1.2 point increase) and South East Asian (no change). Incidentally, the June data coincided with heightened awareness of the death of Black American, George Floyd, and the protests that followed.
“From June to July 2020, there was an improvement in the mental health scores of those who identify as White (1.7 point increase), South East Asian (1.3 point increase) and Black (0.9 point increase) and modest decreases for other groups but for South East Asians whose mental health scores decline 1.7 points,” Morneau Shepell reported.
Intriguingly, individuals that strongly disagreed that racism is a problem in Canada were also the least stressed, the survey noted.
“62 per cent of individuals identifying as Black strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their workplace, followed by 40 per cent of South Asians and 39 per cent identifying as Arab, Middle Eastern or West Asian,” the survey noted. “Comparatively, 14 per cent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in their workplace.”
As many as 40 per cent of those surveyed think that systemic racism is likely to decrease in Canada thanks to increased awareness of the problem, 33 per cent are unsure, but 27 per cent feel that systemic racism is unlikely to decrease.