Pandemic, increased racism awareness impacting Canadians' mental health: survey
WINNIPEG -- The COVID-19 pandemic and increased awareness surrounding anti-black racism are having an impact on Canadians’ mental health, according to a new survey.
On Wednesday, Morneau Shepell, a human resources service and technology company, released its latest mental health index, which looks at the improvement or decline in Canadians’ mental health.
Canada’s pre-2020 benchmark score on the mental health index was 75, but, for the fourth consecutive month, the country has seen a consistent negative mental health score.
“What we found very clearly is a result of everything that has been happening in 2020, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve unfortunately seen a massive decline in the mental health of Canadians,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research for Morneau Shepell.
“Really quite an astounding decline.”
According to Morneau Shepell, the latest index found a 10-point decline from the pre-pandemic benchmark. Though this is the fourth straight month with a decline, it is one point higher than the month before.
The index also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark score, which includes depression, anxiety, isolation, optimism, and work productivity. All these scores remained low, but did see improvements when compared to previous months.
Allen did note from June to July, Manitobans did have the most significant improvement in mental health compared to the rest of the country.
Morneau Shepell said its findings indicate the reason for the decline in Canadians’ mental health this year can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the increased awareness and response to anti-black racism.
George Floyd, a Black American man, was killed by police in May, sparking an international anti-Black racism-awareness movement.
According to the mental health index, about 70 per cent of people believe that racism is an issue in Canada, and 20 per cent believe it’s a problem in their workplace.
When broken down by race, the index found 62 per cent of people who identified as Black said racism was a problem in their workplace, while only 14 per cent of people who identified as white said it was an issue.
The results also showed those who identified as Black saw a 1.8 decrease in their mental health index score from May to June, which then increased by 0.9 in July. Those who identified as white showed consistent improvement over the same time period.
Morneau Shepell noted these results indicate that the decline in Black Canadians mental health corresponded with the most intense period of anti-Black racism awareness, which was immediately following Floyd’s death.
“Racism isn’t anything new and it certainly has been experienced in many different ways by many different individuals,” Allen said.
“What we did find though is that when the killing of George Floyd became a prevalent news item, when we saw that video repeated over and over again, when there was so much discussion around the racism that exists in society. It’s good to have conversations, it’s good to speak about reality, but it certainly initially triggered a fair bit of trauma for a number of individuals.”
COVID-19 AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Due to public health restrictions and physical distancing rules, some Canadians are feeling the social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The index found 30 per cent of respondents have experienced some change in their personal relationships since January, with 16 per cent saying there’s been an improvement and 14 per cent saying their relationships have become more strained.
As for the workplace, the data found 25 per cent of people said there were changes in their workplace relationships: 11 per cent said there’s been an improvement and 14 per cent said there is more of a strain.
Allen said she thinks we’ve achieved something important by having a dialogue around mental health and individuals and employers investing in it.
“We found when employees had employers who invested significantly in mental health, their scores were better,” she said.
“They were actually doing better. It does make a difference when employers take the time to be empathetic and remind people to remind people of resources and introduce programs that are helpful to individuals.”
THE MENTAL HEALTH INDEX
The monthly mental health index is conducted by Morneau Shepell. It surveyed 3,000 Canadians, who were employed in the last six months, between June 22 and June 30. The margin of error is plus-minus 3.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
- With files from CTV’s Nicole Dube