The ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the increased awareness and societal response to anti-Black racism, is continuing to affect Canadians’ mental health, according to the latest mental-health index by Morneau Shepell Ltd.

With a score of negative 10, a very slight improvement on negative 11 last month, the index measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75. It also tracks sub-scores against the benchmark, measuring the risk of depression (negative 12.4), anxiety (negative 12.3), optimism (negative 11.4), work productivity (negative 11.1) and isolation (negative 11). While the sub-scores remain low, all areas have improved when compared to each previous month, noted a press release.

Read: Canadians’ mental health remains low even as country reopens from coronavirus lockdown

“July marks the fifth month since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic and Canadians began experiencing a collective mental-health crisis,” said Stephen Liptrap, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, in the release. “While many businesses, amenities and public spaces have reopened and a slight sense of normalcy has started to emerge across the country, our [index] shows that improving mental well-being takes time. In addition to restarting the Canadian economy, it’s critical that organizations and governments continue to be vigilant in providing mental-health support.”

The index also found that 70 per cent of respondents believe racism is a problem in Canada, while 20 per cent believe it’s a problem in their workplace. When comparing results by race, 62 per cent of those who identified as Black agreed or strongly agreed that racism is a problem in their workforce, compared with 14 per cent of individuals who identified as white.

As well, respondents who identified as Black showed a 1.8-point decrease in their mental-health index score between May and June and a 0.9-point increase to negative 17.7 in July. Those who identified as white showed consistent improvement without the same decline in June, with a 1.2-point increase between May and June and a 1.8-point increase in July.

However, as the conversation on systemic racism continues, the index found the mental-health score of Black Canadians is showing some improvement. Looking forward, 40 per cent of all respondents said they feel that systemic racism is likely to decrease in Canada as a result of heightened anti-Black racism awareness, while 33 per cent said they’re unsure and 27 per cent felt systemic racism is unlikely to decrease.

Read: Workplace inclusivity starts with acknowledging systemic racism: report

“Systemic racism is not a new issue in Canada nor elsewhere, yet many Canadians are just now opening their eyes to the issue for the first time,” said Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell. “The dialogue that has started recently is critical for social change as well as the well-being of individuals and organizations. The experience of racism is traumatic and the ability to safely speak about it and problem solve is critical and has been supported by many organizations. The benefit of that is starting and needs to continue.”

In terms of overall mental health and the workplace, 25 per cent of respondents said they feel there’s been a change in their relationships, with 11 per cent citing an improvement and 14 per cent reporting an increased strain in workplace relationships.

Those with a negative change in personal or workplace relationships have the lowest mental-health scores — negative 27.7 for more strained personal relationship and negative 23.9 for more strained workplace relationships.

“Both personal and workplace relationships are important to well-being,” said Allen. “In the workplace especially, relationships with co-workers are critical to feeling valued, recognized and having a sense of belonging. With many Canadians working and communicating entirely remotely, supporting workplace culture is more important than ever to ensure employee mental health remains a top priority.”

Read: 81% of Canadians say coronavirus is negatively affecting their mental health: survey