What factors are impacting Canadians’ mental health during pandemic?

Employment status, income level and helpful coping strategies are key factors impacting how Canadians feel about their mental health, according to a new survey by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Conference Board of Canada.

The survey asked more than 1,800 Canadians to rate the level of concern they experienced about 15 mental-health factors before the onset of the pandemic and during it. It found 84 per cent said they feel their concerns have increased. The factors with the biggest changes in concern levels were family well-being (24 per cent), respondents’ personal future (23 per cent), experiencing isolation and loneliness (21 per cent) and feeling anxiousness or fear (21 per cent).

Read: How to support employees’ mental health during coronavirus

Respondents also noted substantial increases to their level of concern about their employment situation (18 per cent), financial health (17 per cent), physical health (16 per cent) and low moods or depression (18 per cent).

The survey also found employment status plays a significant role in respondents’ overall mental-health concern score. Those who said they’re employed or self-employed saw a 14 per cent change in their overall concern score, compared to unemployed Canadians, who were, on average, 22 per cent more concerned.

While Canadians across all types of employment styles reported changes to their mental-health concern scores, people in casual or on-call positions (21 per cent) and those in contract part-timer roles (19 per cent) reported larger changes in their score than those with permanent full-time (14 per cent), permanent part-time (13 per cent) and contract full-time roles (14 per cent).

Of unemployed Canadians, those laid off due to the pandemic reported a 25 per cent change in their mental-health concern score, as did those who said they received government support. Respondents who lost access to their employee benefits when laid off reported a 38 per cent change to their score, while those with access to their benefits plan reported only a 22 per cent change.

Read: 41% of Canadian businesses have laid off staff due to coronavirus: Stats Can

Canadians with annual income of less than $50,000 saw a 16 per cent change in their mental-health concern, higher than those in the $50,000 to $99,999 bracket (14 per cent) and among those making more than $100,000 per year (13 per cent).

The survey also asked respondents about the coping strategies they’re using to manage their mental health. It found Canadians who use at least one coping strategy they perceive as helpful had lower mental-health concern scores. The most popular activities that respondents considered helpful for their mental health included connecting with family and friends through technology (75 per cent), walking or jogging (68 per cent), exercise (67 per cent), online streaming channels (64 per cent), reading (50 per cent) and spending time with a pet (42 per cent).

Participants who reported seeking professional help to manage their concerns were most likely to have talked with a therapist, counsellor or psychologist (12 per cent), used telemedicine for medical support (nine per cent) or online physical health trainers (eight per cent). Just four per cent reported using their employee assistance program and three per cent used online cognitive behavioural therapy or other psychological therapies.

Read: 56% of Canadians say coronavirus negatively impacting mental health: survey

In contrast, Canadians with the highest mental-health concern scores were more likely to turn to risky coping strategies, such as alcohol. “People who experience mental duress and who have not learned or adopted healthy coping strategies are more likely to engage in riskier coping activities like alcohol and drug use,” said Bill Howatt, research chief of health at the Conference Board of Canada, in a press release. “Employers can play a proactive role in providing employees access to resiliency and coping skills programs that can help them learn and master these skills.”