Color & Control:

Our mental health six months into the pandemic?

three people sitting on their computers studying

 4 in 10 employees are less motivated at work

A study released in October demonstrates a consistent trend of negative mental health among Canadians at the six-month mark of the pandemic. The findings, released by Morneau Shepell as part of its Mental Health  Index™, show that strained mental health of Canadians may be here for the long term, driven by continued uncertainties regarding when things may settle, and what life may look like.

 Less willing to access care

Despite the decline in mental health and risks to physical health, researchers found that many Canadians have become less willing to access care. A significant proportion of individuals indicated that the pandemic has made them less likely to access healthcare for physical (29 percent) and mental health needs (24 percent) than prior to COVID-19.

When analyzing the mental health of individuals based on their fears, those who are most concerned about loneliness during the pandemic had the worst mental health score (-25.8).

Female vs male

One trend that has remained consistent throughout the pandemic is the impact by gender; individuals identifying as female had a lower mental health score (-12.2) than those identifying as male (-8.2) for the sixth consecutive month. Additionally, parents, younger individuals, those with lower household incomes and non-White populations continue to have lower mental health scores.

Routines disrupted

Changes in physical workplace and routine are having a significant impact on Canadian employees’ mental health. Individuals who recently returned to the job site had a lower mental health score (-11.0), than those who either remained at the worksite (-7.1) or had always been and continued to work from home (-8.6).

Those with the lowest scores are employees who are working from home as a result of the pandemic (-11.4) and those who are both working from home and at the job site (-12.9). The pandemic is also impacting employee productivity. Almost four in 10 (36 percent) of employees indicated that they are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and 34 percent of respondents said they find it more difficult now than before the pandemic to concentrate on work.

Less motivated

“Motivation is impacted by ongoing strain,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell. “A decline in motivation suggests emotional exhaustion. Right now we have two main things driving that exhaustion. We are often not balancing work with fun, social contact and exploration. Rest is also important but we need more than rest to have balance. Additionally, some people are working more and others are experiencing work as more draining because of concerns about job security or needing to deal with multiple mental and situational distractions, on top of the actual work. Both types of issues can be helped with planning and getting coaching or counselling.”

Need for self-care

“When life is disrupted, we are more likely to ignore important aspects of self-care. We might put things on hold or somehow think everything will automatically get better when things are less disrupted,” said Allen. “Although Canadians are experiencing significant change in all areas of life, accessing physical and mental health support must remain a constant. Employers play a critical role in this by reinforcing the need for self-care and promoting resources such as employee assistance programs and virtual healthcare.”

Continued concerns

As Canadians respond to the pandemic’s second wave, the common concerns reported at the beginning of COVID-19 have resurfaced. The research found that the top concerns that are impacting mental health, echoing the fears reported in April and May, are:

  1. Financial impact of the pandemic (38 percent)
  2. Fear of getting ill (34 percent)
  3. Fear of a loved one dying (30 percent)

Financial risk stands out

Another trend reversing since the start of the pandemic is Canadians’ ability to put aside emergency savings. After several months where Canadians were saving more each month, September marks a decline in the level of emergency savings, which is clearly more stressful.

A call for pro-active action

“The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is well underway, with case counts rapidly increasing and many provinces seriously assessing the need to revert back to previous lockdown measures,” said Stephen Liptrap, Morneau Shepell, president and chief executive officer. “As we look to the coming months, it’s critical that governments and organizations recognize the risk that the impending isolation will have on Canadians’ wellbeing and take proactive action. If Canadians’ mental health and wellbeing needs are not addressed, the resilience of our country will face a significant long-term threat.”

About the Mental Health Index

The monthly survey by was conducted through an online survey in English and French from August 21 to August 30, 2020, with 3,000 employed respondents in Canada. 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 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).

Reprinted with permission from

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