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Stigma deterring Canadians from revealing mental health issues to colleagues and friends

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Corporate / Canada

Stigma deterring Canadians from revealing mental health issues to colleagues and friends

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows that depression continues to impact Canadians’ wellbeing at alarming rate

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 Canadians for the eleventh consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for February is -11.5, indicating a continued decline in mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The February score is slightly higher than January (-11.7) and the same as May 2020. In February, the lowest sub-score is depression (-13.9), which is slightly lower than January (-13.4) and nearly identical to the outset of the pandemic (-14.0 in April 2020). This highlights the damaging impact that continued stress and mental strain are having on Canadians’ overall health, which has the potential to result in significant harm if left unaddressed.

“The extreme isolation and loneliness that we reported in recent months is having a direct impact on Canadians’ mental wellbeing, with many people feeling the same level of depression that was reported almost one year ago when it was at its lowest point,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “Uncertainty about immunization timelines has left Canadians questioning when they will be able to return to the routines they had in place before the pandemic. Through these times of prolonged uncertainty and isolation, organizations have an added responsibility to pay close attention to their team members’ needs and watch for indicators of worsening mental strain, to ensure employees are set up for success both within and outside of the workplace.”

Canadians concerned that revealing mental health issues will impact workplace and personal relationships
Mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many Canadians, despite increased efforts to reduce the associated stigma. The research found that 44 per cent of Canadians 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 per cent) anticipate their career would be impacted if their employer knew of a mental health issue, compared to 39 per cent of non-managers. Mental health also continues to be an uncomfortable topic to broach with friends, with 37 per cent 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 Canadians reported being more concerned about limited career options after revealing they are struggling with a mental health issue than older demographics (54 per cent among individuals aged 20 to 29, improving with age to 38 per cent among those 60 and above).

Canadians with declining wellbeing relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms
The continued pandemic-driven strain on mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing has led some Canadians to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the cumulative stress and uncertainty, such as increased alcohol consumption. The research found that 14 per cent of respondents increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic (March to May 2020), and more than half of respondents (52 per cent) 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 nine per cent 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 (-20.7) when compared to those who do not drink (-9.9), or those who decreased their alcohol consumption (-12.8).

“If organizations had any question as to whether implementing a holistic mental health strategy would benefit employees, we hope our data makes this clear. It’s evident that while employees may not reveal they are struggling with their mental health, many are struggling in silence and coping in ways that do more harm than good,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “The pandemic has presented employers with an opportunity to build trust with their employees and improve retention for the long term, by providing the support they need to not only overcome the challenges brought on by the pandemic. The pandemic has made it clear that the wellbeing of Canadian workers is a priority.”

About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English and French from January 15 to January 25, 2021, with 3,000 respondents in Canada. All respondents reside in Canada 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 Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019. Click here to read the Canadian Mental Health Index™ report.

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 more than 160 countries. Morneau Shepell is a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: MSI). For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald
Morneau Shepell

Angela Pinzon
Kaiser & Partners

Source: Morneau Shepell