In the News: From COVID to the Economy — The Mental Health of Canadians is at a Breaking Point

July 26, 2022 | Hamilton, ON
Contributed by Joshua Chong, Toronto Star

Businessman massaging his nose bridge, tired of work and struggling mental health

First, it was the pandemic. Today, it’s the rising cost of living.

Canadians just can’t seem to catch a break. And now, many are at a breaking point.

Working professionals are experiencing increased strain on their emotional well-being, according to a major report released Thursday, which found that the mental health of Canadians in June was at its lowest levels since the height of the Omicron wave in January.

Though employees are returning to the office and COVID-19 concerns are waning for some, inflation pressures continue to impact workers and their families, with experts warning that employers are not doing nearly enough to protect their employees from mental burnout.

“Some HR departments will develop superficial wellness initiatives — but it’s just window-dressing,” said Catherine Connelly, a Canada Research Chair and human resources and management professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. “What the findings show is we need to have a fundamental look at the workplace.”

LifeWorks, a human resources services and technology company, surveyed 3,000 working professionals across Canada and found that overall mental-health scores saw a precipitous drop in June — down 0.8 points (out of 100) from the previous month — the most significant decrease since January.

Nearly three in four Canadians reported feeling some impact of personal or work stress, according to the latest findings. All mental health subscores declined between May and June, with anxiety and financial stability scores seeing the greatest decrease, down 1.2 points from the previous month.

“We’ve had a big change over the last short while with the economic situation,” said Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks. “We’ve had more uncertainty and anxiety in our lives, and that seems to be the big factor that made the difference in last month’s drop.”

Though Canadians’ mental health had been improving for four straight months before the dip in June, indicators are still significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. The benchmark, based on mental-health data from 2017, 2018 and 2019, is 75 points. The index score fell by 12 points at the beginning of the pandemic to 63 per cent. In 2022, the figures have hovered around 64 points.

“We really haven’t improved significantly since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Allen. “We’ve just gone through different stages.”

While the pandemic was the driving force behind the decline in mental health in 2020 and 2021, factors such as economic uncertainty, increased gun violence, political anger and cynicism have continued to suppress scores in 2022, Allen said.

Read the full article in the Toronto Star.

Catherine Connelly

Catherine Connelly

Professor, Human Resources & Management

Dr. Catherine Connelly holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Organizational Behaviour, and is a Member Emeritus of the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). She is a former associate editor for Human Relations and currently serves on several editorial boards including the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Human Resource Management Review, the Academy of Management Discoveries journal, and Human Resource Management. Her research focuses on the attitudes, behaviours, and experiences of non-standard workers (e.g., temporary agency workers, contractors, temporary foreign workers), the effects of leadership styles on leader well-being, and knowledge hiding in organizations.

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