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A national report that tracks the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Canadians suggests that for the eighth consecutive month, our psychological health is deteriorating.

On Wednesday, HR firm Morneau Shepell released its monthly Mental Health Index report for November. The report’s index score measures the current mental health of 3,000 working Canadians against a pre-2020 benchmark.

Among its findings, the latest report shows extended mental strain and an increase in employment dissatisfaction are continuing to impact the mental wellbeing of Canadians.

Since the company began publishing the index in April 2o2o, there has also been a decline in the general psychological health of Canadians.

“Despite two months of modest improvement in July and September, the psychological health of Canadians is deteriorating,” the authors note.

In November, the psychological health risk score of Canadians was 2.8 points lower than it was in April, bringing the Morneau Shepell mental health risk score to its lowest level yet.

Morneau Shepell’s Paula Allen says if you haven’t paid attention to the conversation about mental health during this pandemic, “now’s the time to do it.” Photo: Contributed

“It’s actually a fairly concerning number, because when we’re looking at that measure of psychological health we’re looking at how people are feeling, what their actual health is,” Paula Allen, Morneau Shepell’s global leader of health and total wellbeing, said in an interview.

“When people feel that their health status is poor, it is a very strong predictor of future problems…It is not a good indicator in terms of our future prospects.”

Allen said the pandemic is taking its toll on our mental health for many reasons. The unpredictability of the pandemic combined with its disruptiveness, its scope, and the fact it has no definitive end date are key factors.

“It’s really something that gives us this massive amount of change and open-ended uncertainty, which is not what the human brain likes,” Allen said.

Also at play is the fact Canadians are now dealing with the pandemic’s secondary impacts. While many are moving forward with a sense of optimism about nationwide rollouts of a vaccine over the coming months, concerns remain about the pandemic’s economic impact on small businesses, ongoing job losses, school disruptions, and increasing COVID-19 case counts.

Allen said much like its impact on physical health, a pandemic’s second wave is expected to be more difficult on our mental health and possibly more deadly.

“What we’re experiencing now is not just the shock and the loss and the uncertainty, but the fatigue, the fact that this is going on open-ended for so long. Even though we see an end to it, it’s still not a clear end,” she explained.

“So there’s still a great amount of uncertainty. I would say even if you’ve done nothing in the past and you haven’t paid attention to this conversation about mental health, now’s the time to do it.”

Allen’s hope is that increased awareness will prompt more people to seek social and psychological support without delay, even if those supports must be virtual. She also urges people to build physical activity into their daily lives because that’s known to positively impact mental health.

Heading into the holidays and facing a winter in the midst of a second wave, Allen said it’s crucial Canadians be aware their mental health is at increased risk due to the ongoing mental strain caused by COVID-19.

“We see it very strongly in people who are high risk before, they very often have gone to a tipping point. We’re seeing higher suicidal ideation, we’re seeing more domestic abuse,” Allen said.

“But even if you’re not at that high end of the continuum your risk level is increased, just like your risk for infection has increased as a result of this pandemic.”

Although the pandemic has impacted everyone, Allen said women, younger people, parents, and those whose salaries or work hours have been reduced tend to be more affected.

The report suggests many working Canadians (36%) were feeling less motivated at work compared to 2019. Researchers discovered the burnout risk is three times what it was in November, 2019. In addition, almost one in five (18%) of working Canadians are feeling more negatively about their employers.

Allen cautions employers to pay attention to the potential for turnover risk once the pandemic is over because “it’s quite high.” She believes they can influence that by actively communicating about and destigmatizing mental health concerns by supporting employees and actively and regularly sharing mental health resource information.

“Employers need to be aware that whenever there is a crisis, that crisis can change everything, including employee engagement and loyalty. And you can build it,” Allen said.

“How employers deal with a crisis sometimes actually makes people feel more connected and provide a better sense of belonging with their workplace. But that means that they need to be active in doing something very positive.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. Great article. The pandemic has been the ever present backdrop to all the other tragedies many of us have faced this year. For me it was the diagnosis, treatment, and death of my father from a glioblastoma. Social isolation and financial stress were the icing on the cake of an awful year. Looking after our individual and collective mental help cannot be stressed enough. Thank you.