Canadians are more sensitive to stress than before the pandemic: report

A new report has found that 46 per cent of Canadians are feeling an increased sensitivity to stress than they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting their overall mental health.

According to the LifeWorks' monthly Mental Health Index released Thursday, many Canadians are expressing more "stress sensitivity concerns" about themselves and their colleagues compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The report found that 49 per cent of working Canadians say they have noticed their colleagues are more sensitive to stress, with 46 per cent indicating the same for themselves. Of those surveyed, 22 per cent said they were unsure.

In addition, 45 per cent of employed Canadians said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their ongoing mental health.

According to the index, Canadians without emergency savings were twice as likely to report COVID-19 to have a negative impact on their mental well-being.

LifeWorks President and CEO Stephen Liptrap said stressors inside and outside of the workplace continue to make it challenging for Canadians to manage their mental well-being "in a healthy way."

"It is important for employers to recognize there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to how employees are feeling, and that providing ongoing communication and support is critical to ensure employee mental health remains a top priority," Liptrap said in a press release.

According to LifeWorks, respondents younger than 40 are 50 per cent more likely to feel an increased sensitivity to stress than those who are older, while Canadians with a reduced salary or who are working fewer hours are more than 30 per cent more likely to experience this.

The report also found that 17 per cent of Canadians struggling with stress or their mental health are unlikely to seek professional help.

Those who said they feel more sensitive to stress than before the pandemic also had a mental health score nearly 10 points below the national average.

LifeWorks uses a response scoring system that turns individual responses to each survey question into a point value. Higher point values are associated with better mental health, according to the report.

The scores of those surveyed are added and then divided by a total number of possible points to obtain a score out of 100. To demonstrate change, the current month’s scores are then compared to the benchmark and the prior month.

Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks, says Canadians have been experiencing "non-stop changes and uncertainties" over the past two years, with long-term strain driving the increased sensitivity to stress.

"While life has begun to return to a sense of normalcy for some, many are carrying the heavy weight of stressful world events on their shoulders. As these occurrences continue to impact peoples' mental health, it will create an even more unpredictable landscape for individuals and the economy," Allen said in the release.

She added that now is not the time to pull back focus on mental health supports and services, but rather the opposite.

"Employers should be aware that a return to pre-pandemic routines does not mean a return to pre-pandemic mental health," Allen said.

EFFECT OF RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT

LifeWorks also asked Canadians about the conflict in Ukraine and how it may be impacting their mental well-being.

According to the index, nearly four in ten (38 per cent) respondents said Russia's war in Ukraine is impacting them personally, with this group reporting the lowest mental health score at -15.1 -- five points below the national average of -10.

More than one-third (36 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they are most concerned about long-term disruption and suffering of those involved in the conflict, while 30 per cent said they are concerned about the escalation and broadening of Russia's war.

In addition, 22 per cent said they are most worried about the general economic impact of this conflict. According to the index, parents were 50 per cent more likely that those who do not have children to report the impact on the economy as their greatest concern.

MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS

LifeWorks' overall Mental Health Index for April 2022 improved half a point from the previous month, coming in at -10 points. Despite the slight improvement, LifeWorks reports that this level remains "well below" the pre-pandemic benchmark with a negative score now becoming "the norm."

According to the report, mental health scores improved in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador in April 2022, while Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec saw declines.

The index also monitors sub-scores against pre-pandemic benchmarks, including financial risk, psychological health, isolation, work productivity, anxiety, depression and optimism.

The report found that the lowest sub-scores in April 2022 were depression risk (-12.2), followed by work productivity (-11.5), isolation (-10.8), anxiety (-10.4), optimism (-9.8) and general psychological health (-2.4).

Despite a decline of 1.3 points in April, the strongest sub-score continues to be financial risk and represents an improvement in the level of emergency savings compared to 2019, according to the index. This was also the only sub-score to measure above the historical benchmark.

METHODOLOGY

LifeWorks' latest monthly index is based on an online English and French survey with 3,000 responses collected between April 7 and 22, 2022. All respondents reside in Canada and are currently employed or were employed within the last six months, according to the index. Benchmark data was collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The HR company, formerly known as Morneau Shepell, says participants are selected to be representative of the age, gender, industry, and geographic distribution in Canada. The same respondents take part each month to remove a sampling bias. Respondents are asked to consider the prior two weeks when answering each question.

LifeWorks added that online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.