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Loneliness taking a toll on Canadians' mental health several months into COVID-19 pandemic

Last Updated Oct 14, 2020 at 7:48 am PDT

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New research shows many Canadians continue to struggle with their mental health, several months into the pandemic

Morneau Shepell finds loneliness is currently worse for many people than is the fear of dying from COVID-19

Job stability and long-term financial prospects continue to be a concern for many Canadians

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Our strained mental health could be here for the long term, according to new research released more than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results from Morneau Shepell’s latest Mental Health Index show loneliness is currently worse for many people than is the fear of dying from COVID-19.

The new research has found that those who are most concerned about loneliness are those who had the worst mental health throughout the pandemic.

The index has also found Canadians are less motivated at work and worried about the impacts of another potential lockdown.

“We didn’t expect the extent of decline that we had,” Paula Allen, senior vice president of Research Analytics and Innovation at Morneau Shepell, says.

The HR provider has been gauging how Canadians have been feeling since April. While there was an increase in our mental health levels heading into the summer, August and September trended lower.

“There are a number of things that were a surprise. The first thing was that we didn’t expect the extent of decline that we had. It was quite massive — we saw 80 per cent of Canadians being negatively impacted in terms of their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic,” Allen explains.

Anxiety, depression, isolation

She notes the level of anxiety, depression, and isolation was more than what the company expected to find.

In addition to this, Allen says the index has found about four in 10 working Canadians are struggling with staying motivated while on the job.

“So even if you have a job, which a lot of people are very grateful for, there is that drag, there is that drain on your motivation likely as a result of all the different demands in terms of your mind,” she tells NEWS 1130, noting most workplaces have changed, with many in “survival mode” due to the impacts of the pandemic.

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“This is very different than anything that we’ve experienced before,” Allen says, pointing to financial crises, wildfires, and other natural disasters.

“But nothing really of this scale, and nothing really of this global nature. So this is a bit of new territory, so we are finding some very new things.”

Early on in the pandemic, Allen says burnout was common, as was emotional exhaustion.

Job stability and long-term financial prospects were also a concern, and continue to be now.

Thinking and stressing about the latter can make working harder, Allen points out.

“When you see those factors, it isn’t surprising that we have it. But I think the main thing is that we can’t really accept that this is the way it has to be because it’s no less damaging because it’s explainable. The fact is, some of us will adapt … and some of us will not. We have to make sure that everything in our power is invested personally, as well as resources around us, so the majority of people are able to adapt and get through it as well.”

Allen admits Morneau Shepell was expecting to see people adapt more to the situation by now. With the second wave of COVID-19 already setting in in parts of Canada, Allen says a second wave of mental health risks is also imminent.

“I really do think we have to double down at this point and make sure that we attend to this factor, attend to the risks to our mental health.”