Many Canadians keep quiet about mental health at work, worried it will hurt their career: report

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TORONTO —
A report tracking mental health in Canada during the pandemic has scored Canadians’ mental health in the negatives for eleven straight months, and suggests many Canadians fear that revealing mental health struggles could damage their career.

According to Morneau Shepell’s latest data, released Tuesday, Canadians experienced almost the same rate of depression in February as they did in April, 2020.

“The extreme isolation and loneliness that we reported in recent months is having a direct impact on Canadians’ mental wellbeing,” Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer of Morneau Shepell, said in a press release.

Morneau Shepell provides HR services to 24,000 client organizations across 162 countries, including mental health services. Starting in April 2020, it began to release a monthly report called the Mental Health Index, which compared mental health information collected through monthly surveys to data from 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The survey includes 3,000 Canadians, and so far, the Mental Health Index has shown a “continued decline in mental health” throughout the pandemic when compared to levels before 2020.

For eleven straight months, the monthly score has been in the negatives.

In February, while the overall score was -11.5, a slight improvement from January’s -11.7, the lowest sub-score was for depression, which was -13.9 compared to pre-2020 data. In April of 2020, the score for depression was -14.0.

Other details from the survey shed some light on how mental health struggles interact with a person’s work life.

According to the report, 44 per cent of respondents believe that if they told an employer about having a mental health issue, their career would suffer. This feeling was worse among those higher up on the chain at work — out of this group, 50 per cent of managers felt speaking up would hurt their career, while only 39 per cent of non-managers felt the same.

When age was looked at, younger Canadians were more likely to report being worried about their career opportunities shrinking after revealing a mental health struggle, with 54 per cent of 20-29 expressing this feeling compared to 38 per cent of those above 60 years of age.

Even outside of work, stigma persists. The report found that 37 per cent of respondents also feared telling their friends about mental health issues, worrying that they would be treated differently.

“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,” Paula Allen, vice president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell, said in the release.

Among those coping methods are increased consumption of alcohol. The survey found that 14 per cent of respondents had begun drinking more during the early days of the pandemic, and nearly half of the respondents indicated that they had been drinking as much in the past few months as they did at the start of the pandemic. Nine per cent of respondents indicated that they had begun consuming more alcohol since the fall than they were the start of the pandemic.

Alcohol consumption also correlated with individuals’ reported mental health. Those who had increased their alcohol consumption early on in the pandemic “also reported the lowest mental health score (-20.7)” according to the release, while those who do not drink or decreased their alcohol consumption had much higher scores.

As we move into year two of the pandemic, Canadians are still unsure when they will receive a vaccine and when life could return to normal, Liptrap said, making it hard to plan for the future.

“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,” he added.

“The pandemic has made it clear that the wellbeing of Canadian workers is a priority,” Allen said.

It’s already been well-documented in studies and surveys that the pandemic has had a severely detrimental effect on Canadians’ mental health as a whole. A poll by Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) run in December of 2020 found that 22 per cent of Canadians had been diagnosed with depression, four per cent higher than rates before the pandemic.

A previous report from Morneau Shepell, released in January, found that nearly two fifths of Canadians worry about a co-worker’s mental health. 

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