Skip to main content
Back-to-school and other pandemic uncertainties reverse Americans’ mental health improvement trend

A transformational journey. LifeWorks becomes TELUS Health. Visit our About Us page to learn more.

Corporate / Mental Health / United States

Back-to-school and other pandemic uncertainties reverse Americans’ mental health improvement trend

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ worsens in August with a six-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark of 75

CHICAGO, September 9, 2020 – Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, making August the fifth consecutive month of negative mental health scores, with feelings of isolation and financial risk continuing to be the top drivers of American employees’ mental health.

After a period of slow but steady improvement from April through July, the Mental Health Index™ score declined in August across all regions in the United States, with the largest decline being in the South. Overall, women continue to have lower mental health scores than men, and as observed in prior months, mental health scores tend to improve with age.

The Mental Health Index™ for August is -6, which measures a decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, and lower than the previous month by one point. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring optimism (-8.5), anxiety (-7.3), depression (-6.7), isolation (-5.5), work productivity (-5.3), general psychological health (2.5) and financial risk (9.7). All sub-score areas experienced declines, with the exception of work productivity (which was -5.5 last month) and financial risk, which remained the same as July’s index score. The most significant negative change was for anxiety.

“As the United States maintains the highest cumulative COVID-19-case count globally, many states have either reversed or paused their reopening plans, remaining in an active ‘state of emergency’ that continues to negatively impact the quality of life and mental health for American workers and their families,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “The added stress parents and students have shouldered while school districts and higher education have tried to identify safe instruction practices has had a negative impact on productivity as well as employee and student morale.”

Return to school exacerbating mental health woes
In March 2020, many schools closed down and transitioned their teaching models away from in-person to online only, which caught many instructors, students and parents off-guard. Most people anticipated that once COVID-19 diagnoses and casualties peaked and began to decline, students, teachers and administrators would be able to return to school in-person.

As parents and students approached the new school year in August, in-person education hopes are going unfulfilled as infection and death rates are not falling as fast as imagined, and the Mental Health Index™ reflects these sentiments. For the fifth consecutive month, full-time students have the lowest mental health score (-18.3) out of all industries surveyed. Those people with one child possessed a significantly lower mental health score (-10.2) than those without children (-4.4) and the gap between these two groups has been increasing since April. While on average the decline in mental health from July to August was most significant for parents, those without children also showed a decline given the prolonged uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic for everyone.

Pandemic staying power takes toll on optimism
As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps a stronghold on the United States, a majority of American employees express skepticism about life returning to what was considered normal before the outbreak. Nearly half (44 percent) of respondents feel that it is unlikely that things will return to the pre-pandemic state, with another 24 percent undecided. Those who feel that it is very unlikely that things will return to the pre-pandemic state have the lowest mental health scores of all (-11.8), which highlights the mental health impact of looming or ongoing change.  Those who believe that things will very likely return to the pre-pandemic state have the highest mental health score (4.1).

“When COVID-19 caused most states to go into lockdown in March, we were all faced with incredible mental health strains related to personal health and safety, as well as work and school disruptions. Early on, many U.S. employees were optimistic that life would return to normal by the time students returned to school in the fall, but that was not the case,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “American employees are falling into a pandemic fatigue as they constantly juggle challenges and uncertainties for themselves and their families across work, financial and schooling needs. It’s critical for employers to understand their employees’ frustrations and feelings of being overwhelmed as they face these unanticipated obstacles and look for ways to help them manage their new realities. The numbers we are seeing could signal the verge of a ‘second wave’ of mental angst.” 

The full U.S. report includes more insight on changes to mental stress, the impact of a positive outlook on one’s emotional state of mind and variations of the Mental Health Index™ score by demographics, industries and regions. The full U.S. report can be found at

About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English from July 21 to July 31, 2020, with 5,000 respondents in the United States. All respondents reside in the United States and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The margins of error for the survey are +/- 3.2 percent, valid 19 times out of 20. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

About Morneau Shepell
Morneau Shepell is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in 162 countries. For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald
Morneau Shepell

Mike Jurs