This article is part 2 of our 3-part COVID-19 Mental Health Training 2021 Series.
2020 was a year of unexpected changes, challenges and firsts both in the workplace and at home. Many employers were at the epi-center of the storm, changing the very core of how the workforce functioned and managing daily scrambles of the evolving health situation in the world and in the office. A new study released by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence shows that 70% of workers say 2020 has been the most stressful year yet and this has negatively contributed to the mental health of the workforce.
“70% of Workers say 2020 Has Been the Most Stressful Year Yet”
A full year of COVID-19 has now passed and for many in the workforce the agonizingly long pandemic has overwhelmed them – it’s time to check-in with your employees. The ongoing effect on mental health has been profound and something that every employer needs to be aware of and proactively address for the health and efficiency of their workforce. In 2021, it’s also important to ask questions about what has changed in the last year and what challenges employees are experiencing.
Has COVID-19 Affected the Mental Health of Your Workforce?
It is important to understand the status of your workforce. The same survey by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence found:
- 78% of employees indicated that COVID-19 has affected their mental health.
- a nearly identical 76% believe that mental health needs to be an employer priority.
Negative effects of COVID-19 are linked to a variety of mental health issues. People struggling with addiction are being adversely affected. A Neilsen survey found an increase in alcohol sales of 54% with accompanying negative side effects. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is also reporting survey results showing 23.3% of the population drinking more alcohol now than before the pandemic because of higher anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and depression.
As Canadians head into 2021, COVID-19 restrictions remain in place in most parts of the country. The ongoing impact of the pandemic continues to have a negative effect on the mental health of Canadians.
What Does the Mental Health Index Show?
January marked the tenth consecutive month where the Mental Health Index™ reflects strained mental health in the Canadian population. The Mental Health Index™ (MHI) is a measure of deviation from the benchmark of mental health and risk. The overall Mental Health Index™ for January 2021 was -12 points. This 12-point decrease from the pre-COVID-19 benchmark reflects a population whose mental health is similar to the most distressed one per cent of the benchmark population.
The lowest Mental Health Index™ sub-score is for the risk measure of depression (-13.4), followed by anxiety (-13.1), isolation (-12.8), optimism (-12.5), work productivity (-11.6), and general psychological health (-4.0). The risk measure with the best mental health score, and the only measure above benchmark, is financial risk (3.2).
How Has It Affected Physical Health, Efficiency and Workforce Productivity?
Morneau Shepell, released a monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a consistent trend of negative mental health among Canadians at the six-month mark of the pandemic. The findings show that strained mental health of Canadians may be here for the long term, driven by concerns about the second wave of the pandemic, an impending lockdown and continued uncertainties regarding when things may settle, and what life may look like.
The Mental Health Index™ score is -10, highlighting an uneven pattern since the start of the pandemic. The survey reported modest increases from April to July, a decline in August and a return to July’s score (-10) in September. The score measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75. The Mental Health Index™ also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring financial risk (3.1), psychological health (-1.9), isolation (-9.7), work productivity (-10.8), anxiety (-11.5), depression (-11.8) and optimism (-12.3). Financial risk stands out with a decline after several months of improvement.
Anxiety and Mental Health Worries are Up Substantially
The surge in applications for employment insurance reflects what was found in other surveys. Morneau Shepell, a Toronto-based employee benefits provider, this month launched a mental health index that compares current indicators of mental well-being with data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019, characterized as “a period of relative social stability and steady economic growth.”
“This situation is so out of the ordinary, people don’t have any sense of control of it,” said Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research, analytics and innovation for Morneau Shepell.
Morneau Shepell has announced a new digital mental health program, in partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart. CEO Stephen Liptrap speaks with BNN Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman about the program and the mental health challenges for Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surveys of cannabis users are showing an even more dramatic effect from the pandemic. The findings are 50% of users have increased their intake of cannabis when compared to pre-pandemic times. Younger workers are more at risk of over consumption of cannabis according to the surveys.
Despite signs of improvement in the COVID-19 crisis related to vaccine production and recent declining infection rates, for employees trying to manage their mental health it is still the middle of a dark, cold winter. Navigating the sea of COVID-19 predictions, both positive (vaccine rollouts) and negative (variant-driven third wave of infections) is daunting. Employers should be asking: Are we doing what we can to help our workforce understand all the available information and not get overwhelmed? It is a challenge for many people to believe anything positive after an entire year of bad news related to health and economy.
Employers must recognize that the crisis continues, and more help must be provided to support employees through their mental health journey. There are simple ways to be proactive for the mental health of your workforce. Breakdown the stigma barrier – provide tools for employees to help recognize their mental health situation and learn to cope better with it. For example, the Corridor COVID-19 Mental Health Online Training solution is a great place to start. This free online training tool provides key learnings including how to recognize stress and what its effects are, what the changes to the workplace may be and how to cope with the new reality, and finally managing personal interactions in a safe and supportive manner to create a workspace that will function well in a pandemic influenced world.
The long term story of COVID-19 and its impact on our valuable workforce has yet to be written. However with information and training, employers and employees can influence the outcome of the story now. A return to a more normal life will occur and our lives and businesses will move forward to a better future. Let us collectively work to not lose passengers along the way and provide crucial support for mental health.