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Months of COVID-19, seismic cultural change take toll on Canadians' mental health

Last Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 9:04 pm EDT

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Morneau Shepell Mental Health Index finds July was another tough month for Canadians but there are signs of improvement

Many Canadians have been struggling with the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic month to month

Killing of George Floyd and resulting protests have also increased stress among Canadians, Morneau Shepell finds

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s going to take some time for many things to get back to normal after the year we’ve had so far, including the mental health of many Canadians.

According to Morneau Shepell, a human resources and technology company, July was another tough month.

“The way the Mental Health Index works is that we measure mental health in a number of different areas relative to a benchmark,” Paula Allen, senior vice president, Research Analytics and Innovation, explains.

“What we found is, in April, there was a massive decline in every area of mental health. So increased anxiety, increased depressive symptoms, decreased optimism, increased isolation, decreased work productivity. So we really saw the impact that we’re attributing to the pandemic, and when you think about it, it’s been such a major upheaval in the lives of everyone.”

However, the challenges in recent months weren’t just about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The company’s most recent survey finds the killing of George Floyd in America and the wave of changes that sparked has also been weighing heavy on Canadians, with 70 per cent of respondents saying they believe racism is a problem in this country. However, notably, only 20 per cent say it’s an issue in their workplace.

“So, 2020 is quite an interesting year in many respects and certainly for the mental health of the population,” Allen says. “What we have seen as well is that in June, we saw a decline in mental health for Black and other non-white Canadians. And this is in contrast to very modest, not significant, but we had seen a modest trend towards improvement from April to May.”

It was May to June when Allen says Morneau Shepell started seeing a “significant” decline in the mental health of minorities. The timeline, Allen notes, coincides with the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, his death ultimately captured on camera and shared widely across the globe.

Morneau Shepell points out Canadians haven’t had a significant moment of reprieve from all the stresses the past several months have brought, however, things are looking up.

“We’re starting to flatten the curve,” Allen says. “So, the extent of that increase is not as great, it’s starting to flatten out, and hopefully we’ll see some decreases over time as people learn coping skills and avail themselves with resources.”