First and foremost, there’s the global health crisis. Then there’s the resulting economic crisis that’s brought many businesses — from large airlines to mom-and-pop restaurants — to their knees. And third, but certainly not least, there’s the mental-health crisis resulting, in large part, due to the impact the public-health and economic crises have had on employee’s working and personal lives.
The first issue of Benefits Canada’s print magazine in 2021 (and my first as interim editor while our editor enjoys her maternity leave) dives deep into how employers — including 3M Canada, Cenovus Energy, the Health Benefit Trust of Alberta, Scotiabank, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Unilever Canada Inc., CGI Group Inc. and Ryerson University — are trying to help employees cope. There’s five stories focused on mental health sprinkled throughout the print issue, as well as online, on mental health and medication, how employers are helping employees during this tough time, a deep dive on using benefits to support mental well-being, using data to develop mental-health training and Q&A with a mental-health co-ordinator.
As the pandemic has dragged on and on . . . and on and on, many Canadians have been struggling.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health partnered with the research technology and consumer data collection company Delvinia on a series of surveys in 2020 and found people were dealing with anxiety, depression and alcohol use. The monthly surveys found anxiety levels fluctuated during the course of the pandemic, spiking in the spring and late fall and dipping over the summer months (when coronavirus case rates were lower and it was easier to socialize relatively safely outside with friends and family). Meanwhile, symptoms of depression and loneliness remained relatively stable throughout the six-month study period.
The CAMH’s last survey of 2020 found that 24.3 per cent of respondents had moderate to severe anxiety levels and, unsurprisingly, those with children under 18 in the household reported higher levels of anxiety as compared to those without children in this age group. And, almost as many (21.7 per cent) of the respondents reported feeling depressed occasionally, or most of the time, in the past week. Perhaps most concerningly, more than a quarter (25.7 per cent) of respondents reported binge drinking in the previous week.
These statistics are stark. But these are dark times.
On a brighter note, 19.4 per cent of respondents of the survey reported seeking help for mental-health concerns from a counsellor or health-care provider, either online or in person, at least once during the past week.
As Canadian employees face down the one-year?! anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, many employers have stepped up to help them cope in the months that followed.
In our Cover Story, I outline how Unilever Canada has been steadily supporting its employees’ mental health throughout the pandemic. Among other things, the consumer-goods company substantially beefed up its virtual wellness offerings, increased the number of employees who serve as mental-health champions to colleagues and conducted ongoing pulse surveys to see what efforts paid off and which needed tweaking.
In 2021 and beyond, employers will need to continue adjusting mental-health benefits and programs.
As Dr. Marc Robin, medical director and telemedicine physician at Dialogue, warns in my Cover Story we’re now all in “the big disillusionment phase . . . and that can last years — that’s where the grind and the marathon of hardness kicks in.”
As I write this, it’s a dreary winter day, I’m in my living room-cum-office and, honestly, things are feeling like a capital G Grind. Rarely seeing friends or family, adjusting to working remotely and not being able to do the things I’d usually do to blow off steam — like going to a hot-yoga class packed to the gills after a tough day at an actual office is hard. These long winter days in lockdown seem like running a marathon in which the finish line keeps getting moved further and further on the horizon. But as someone who’s completed marathons (OK, OK, two half-marathons) I’m confident employees can push through what runners call the dreaded “wall.” And I’m also confident employers, like the ones featured in the first edition of Benefits Canada‘s print magazine this year, will keep helping employees put one foot in front of the other so they can break through any wall in their way.
Employers shouldn’t waste this crisis — they can, nay must, continue to invest in supporting employees’ mental health in 2021 and throughout the hard post-pandemic years yet to come.