Canadians plumbing mental-health lows still hesitant to seek help

by Leo Almazora29 Mar 2021

Even as Canadians’ collective levels of depression decline to as low a point as they’ve ever been since the start of the pandemic, deep-seated fears are keeping them from openly talking about their struggles, according to new findings from Morneau Shepell.

In the latest edition of its monthly Mental Health Index report, the company found Canadians scoring negatively on mental health for the eleventh straight month in February.

With an index score of -11.5, last month marked a slight improvement from January’s -11.7 and matched May 2020’s record. But February’s lowest sub-score – depression, at -13.9 – was slightly lower than the previous month, and nearly identical to the record of -14.0 seen at the outset of the pandemic in April 2020.

“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 at Morneau Shepell. “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.”

In spite of continuing efforts to address the stigma attached to mental health issues, it’s still a taboo topic for many Canadians. Nearly half of Canadians (44%) shared a belief that they would have limited career options if their employer were to become aware that they had a mental health issue; within that group, 50% of managers expect their career would be affected should their employer become aware they had a mental health issue, in contrast to 39% of non-managers.

Carving the data by age, the results showed young Canadians reporting more concern about having fewer career options after they come out with their mental health struggles. Just over half (54%) of individuals aged 20 to 29 shared that fear, compared to around two fifths (38%) of those who were 60 and above.

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).

Even with friends, Canadians were not comfortable bringing up the topic of mental health, as 37% of respondents shared a belief they’d be treated differently if their friends were to learn they had a mental-health issue.

The survey also found that to deal with the burden of stress and pandemic uncertainty, 14% of respondents increased their consumption of alcohol in the early stages of the pandemic from March to May last year; over half of respondents (52%) said they’ve maintained the same level of alcohol consumption in recent months from October until January when compared to early in the pandemic. Another 9% said they’ve consumed more alcohol from October 2020 to January 2021 relative to what they did early in the pandemic.

The respondents who said they increased their alcohol intake early in the pandemic also self-reported mental health scores of -20.7, the lowest of all survey groups. Those who do not drink reported mental health scores of -9.9, and those who dialled down their consumption had a score of -12.8.