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COVID-19 and heightened attention to racism affect American workers’ mental health and relationships

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Corporate / Mental Health / United States

COVID-19 and heightened attention to racism affect American workers’ mental health and relationships

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ improves slightly for July at a five-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark of 75

CHICAGO, August 5, 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 July the fourth consecutive month with a negative mental health score, as feelings of isolation and financial risk continuing to be the top drivers of American employees’ mental health. While mental stress has increased compared to the prior month, the steepness of the increase has, however, been flattening.

The Mental Health Index™ score for July is -5, which measures a decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, but this month’s score is a one-point improvement from the previous month. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring optimism (-8.0), anxiety (-6.4), depression (-6.1), work productivity (-5.5) and isolation (-4.8). Although the sub-scores remain low, all areas saw improvement in July except for optimism, which declined slightly when compared to last month.

“While parts of the United States started to open up for business in June, some markets have had to slow down their reopening plans. The Mental Health Index™ shows the continued negative impact the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is having on American workers’ mental health and quality of life,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “As COVID-19 cases continue to rise again, workers are starting to lose their early optimism on rebounding from the pandemic and remain very concerned about a potential second mass shutdown, similar to what happened in March.”

Anxiety levels rising across many non-White demographics

When it comes to mental health differences by race, the Mental Health Index saw anxiety scores worsen for most people of color in June during the initial awareness and response to the killing of George Floyd.  July showed some signs of improvement as the dialogue on racism continued and early indication of change began. In contrast, White respondents continued to show improvement in their mental health month over month, without the same decline in June.

Overall, 74 percent of individuals surveyed believe that racism is a problem in the United States, though only 17 percent believe that racism is a problem in their workplace. When considering the results by race, 90 percent of individuals identifying as Black strongly agree or agree that racism is a problem in the United States, while 73 percent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree. When asked if racism is a problem in their workplace, 33 percent of individuals identifying as Black strongly agree or agree, and only 14 percent of individuals identifying as White strongly agree or agree.

Americans divided about systemic racism in society and the workplace

One of the major issues facing American society – systemic racism – has received heightened awareness as a result from the many protests held nationwide in response to the number of recent killings of Black Americans. As more Americans begin to give meaningful thought to this issue, their outlook varies. Thirty-five (35) percent of respondents feel that systemic racism is likely to decrease in the United States, 33 percent are unsure, and 31 percent feel that systemic racism is unlikely to decrease. When it comes to their workplace, 24 percent feel that it is likely that systemic racism will decrease, 37 percent are unsure, and 39 percent feel that systemic racism is unlikely to decrease.

Companies with smaller workforces at a mental health disadvantage

July’s report reflects a strong correlation between an individual’s scores on the Mental Health Index™ and the size of the company where they are employed. People who indicate working at companies with 51-100 employees have the lowest mental health scores (-8.2), while those who report working at companies with more than 10,000 employees have the highest mental health scores (-2.4). Sole proprietors (-3.4) and those who work for companies with 2-50 employees (-5.0) scored in the middle.

“While small businesses continue to be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic over large companies, once an organization reaches more than 50 workers, that close-knit familial sentiment felt by employees begins to strain, as managers need to supervise more workers and have less time to do so,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “The fact that employees at larger organizations scored better than average suggests that the benefits and programs that many larger organizations offer are having a positive effect. It’s critical for employers of all sizes to seek ways to support their people’s health and wellbeing, now more than ever. Employee assistance programs are much more cost effective than many small- to mid-size organizations realize and they offer support that can be life changing.”

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 June 22 to June 30, 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