Mental health still low as economies reopen: survey

‘We need to remain vigilant about support for mental health and not take our eyes off that issue’

Mental health still low as economies reopen: survey
Respondents with access to an EAP fared better compared to those without, found a survey.

Canadians’ mental health and well-being remain down despite a slowing of infections and most provinces proceeding with a phased reopening of their economies, according to a report from Morneau Shepell.

In May, Canadians recorded a 12-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark score of 75 in the company’s Mental Health Index. Canadians also had the same mental health score in April.

“As we enter the third month since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, there are still many questions regarding the reopening of the economy and what lifted restrictions mean for Canadians,” says Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell. “The continued compromise to Canadians’ mental health and wellbeing demonstrates that there is still much work to be done to help mitigate this critical dimension of the public health crisis. As we start to see the end of the strict lockdowns, we need to remain vigilant about support for mental health and not take our eyes off that issue.”

The main factors contributing to poorer mental health in May were anxiety (down 14 points), depression (down 13.9), work productivity (down 13.5), optimism (down 12.3) and isolation (down 11.9).

In April, the top concern having an impact on mental health relates to the financial impact of the pandemic (55 per cent), followed by the fear of getting ill or having a loved one pass away (42 per cent, respectively) and uncertainty around how the virus will impact family (33 per cent), according to another survey from Morneau Shepell.

Among the provinces, mental health improved in Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritimes and Saskatchewan, but declined in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario, found the report based on a survey of 3,000 respondents from April 30 to May 11, 2020. British Columbia had the most significant increase in stress compared to the prior month, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan had the lowest increases.

At risk

Female respondents (down 13.9 points) are more likely to report that COVID-19 has harmed their mental health compared to male respondents (down 9.2 points), while those aged 20-29 and those earning under $30,000 per annum are also of the highest risk compared to their peers.

Among households, the mental health of those with one child (down 13.7 points) suffered the most, followed by those with no children (down 10.7 points) and those with three or more children (down 9.2 points).

Respondents with access to an employee assistance program (EAP) (down 10.7 points) fared better compared to those without (down 12.4 points).

The 61 per cent of the respondents who claimed they remain employed and receive the same income pre-COVID-19 also had a better mental health score (down 9.4 points) compared with the 28 per cent who claimed they received reduced incomes (down 15.4 points).

Workers in health care also fared better in terms of mental health (down 11 points) compared to the population overall (down 12 points).

In May, the Ontario government announced it was expanding virtual mental health services to help thousands of Ontarians experiencing anxiety and depression, including front-line health-care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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