Feelings of isolation worse now than at any point during pandemic: report

TORONTO — A year into the pandemic, a new report by HR company Morneau Shepell says that feelings of isolation are taking their greatest toll yet on Canadians.

The company released its monthly Mental Health Index report, showing a negative mental health score among Canadians for the 12th consecutive month, according to a press release.

“The past year has been defined by relentless change and drastic declines in Canadians’ wellbeing, as individuals across the country were forced to constantly shift their way of living,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer in the release. “One year into the pandemic, it’s clear that while there have been many changes to our routine, the declining state of Canadians’ wellbeing remains a constant.”

The Morneau Shepell monthly mental health survey was conducted online in both English and French for 3,000 respondents across Canada between Feb. 17 and March 1. The data is statistically weighed to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect the population.

While some scores have fluctuated, the score for psychological health has steadily declined over the last 12 months. This “indicates that Canadians’ view of their overall mental health status is at its lowest point,” the release states

The report says the score for isolation is worse now than at any prior point in the pandemic at -12.

The Mental Health Index score for March also measured in the negatives, which reflects a lower level of mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark, the findings say. 

Managers are experiencing greater levels of mental distress than non-managers as a result of workplace changes, the report found, with managers “50 per cent more likely” than regular employees to “report a negative impact of the pandemic on their mental health.”

“People leaders and managers have struggled to cope throughout the pandemic. These individuals have been tasked with managing the shifting responsibilities and operational changes in their everyday role, while dealing with the same personal and emotional disruption as everyone else,” said Paula Allen, a Morneau Shepell global leader and senior vice-president, in the release.

Liptrap said that while it is “encouraging” to see increased attention on mental health in the workplace, going forward “employers must recognize that the return to the workplace will be as disruptive, if not worse,” than the initial transition to remote work.

The report states that the return to a physical office post-pandemic is “uncertain,” and cites that 65 per cent of employees surveyed want flexibility to work from home once the pandemic is over and 26 per cent said they do not believe their employer will support remote work.

The group who said they feel their employer will not support remote work flexibility had the lowest mental health score out of those surveyed, compared to those who felt their employers would accommodate remote work post pandemic, which the report states shows the importance for workplaces to “listen to employees and adjust policies to fit their needs.”

“Long-term success is dependent on effectively addressing mental health,” Liptrap said. “Organizations must continue to deliberately provide support and show empathy for the wellbeing of their employees.”


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