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Women over 65 facing significant mental health decline, while younger women continue to struggle, new Environics Institute survey shows

Overall, Canadians’ mental health declines during pandemic

Toronto, June 2, 2021 – The pandemic has affected the health of all Canadians but it has exacted a particularly heavy toll on the mental health of women and seniors according to results of Environics Institute surveys conducted before and after the pandemic. 

The findings on the physical and mental well-being of respondents have wider implications for the workplace and economy as a whole, the authors note, since health concerns figure prominently in work disruptions and affect overall productivity, skills development and are linked to lower satisfaction with work and employers.

COVID-19 has introduced health risks, loss of income and jobs, restrictions on activities, education, skills development and gatherings, and prolonged uncertainty. Helping employees improve their physical and mental health can bring benefits not only to those workers but also to businesses, those they care for and the economy more generally. Plans for a recovery must include measures to address the poorer health challenges of those whom the pandemic has affected the most.

A new report based on the survey results called Mind and body: Impact of the pandemic on physical and mental health was released in collaboration with the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute. Read the complete report here.  

  • Between April 2019 and December 2020, the proportion of Canadians rating their mental health as “excellent or very good” declined by 15 points, and an increase of 10 points in the proportion describing their mental health as “fair or poor.”

  • The most striking contrast in mental health is between situations of younger men and older women. Among men aged 18 to 29, perceptions of their mental health improved slightly from 36% to 46%, while women aged 65 or older reported a dramatic decline, from 73% to 40%. 

  • Although the decline in mental health perceptions was sharper among seniors than young adults, younger Canadians continue to rate their mental health more poorly than others. Two in five (40%) people aged 18 to 29 and 44% of students rate their mental health as “fair or poor”. 

  • Young women’s perceptions of their mental health after the pandemic are most concerning, with half of women aged 18 to 29 and half of female students (aged 18 and older) ranking their mental health as “fair or poor”.

  • Older Canadians reported a dramatic decline in mental health, with seniors 65 and up who previously rated their mental health as “excellent or very good” dropping from 75% to 48%. They also reported a decline in physical health, with those rating it “excellent or very good” dropping from 44% to 27%. 

  • The decline in perceptions of mental health since 2019 has occurred among all major racial identity groups and among those identifying as Indigenous. However, this decline is somewhat larger among those identifying their background as Chinese and is notable as it represents a decline of 50% in the proportion of Chinese Canadians who perceive their mental health as excellent or very good. Chinese Canadians perceptions of their mental health are now significantly worse than other major racial identity groups.

  • Perceptions of physical health showed a more modest decline than mental health, despite the closure of fitness centres and the cancellation of team activities and sporting events. Pre-pandemic, 39% of Canadians rated their physical health as “excellent or very good”, which fell slightly to 34% afterwards. Those rating their physical health as “fair” (37%) dropped to 28%, while those viewing it as “poor” grew from 23% to 28%.  
The pandemic has affected us all but has had a much more negative impact on the mental and physical health of specific groups, including women. This affects the workforce and society overall, and we must address the inequities faced by disadvantaged groups as we emerge from the pandemic. Otherwise, we risk widening the gap, with disproportionate consequences for women, youth, racialized and Indigenous peoples. It will be crucial to confront these issues with policies, strategies and skills training that ensure a more prosperous future for everyone.
Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre
I think all of us are aware of the rise of anti-Asian racism and while this research does not provide an explanation we need to dig in deeper. Similarly, the decline in perceptions of mental health among Chinese Canadians is shocking. These findings show, in less than two years, a 50 per cent decline in those who perceive their mental health as excellent or very good. The proportion of Chinese Canadians who now perceive their mental health as excellent or very good is now half that of Black Canadians and much lower than all other major racial identity groups.
Wendy Cukier, director of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute

The report is based on the Survey on Employment and Skills, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute. The authors examined results of this survey of 5,351 Canadians, conducted between Nov. 24 and Dec. 22, 2020, and a previous one conducted in April 2019 — a year-and-a-half before the pandemic. The earlier research occurred between April 17 and May 6, 2019, with a sample of 3,111 Canadians. Researchers aimed to gain a more in-depth understanding of the pandemic’s implications on physical and mental health among Canadians.  

About the Future Skills Centre
The Future Skills Centre (FSC) is a forward-thinking centre for research and collaboration dedicated to preparing Canadians for employment success. We believe Canadians should feel confident about the skills they have to succeed in a changing workforce. As a pan-Canadian community, we are collaborating to rigorously identify, test, measure, and share innovative approaches to assessing and developing the skills Canadians need to thrive in the days and years ahead. The Future Skills Centre was founded by a consortium whose members are Ryerson University, Blueprint, and The Conference Board of Canada, and is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program.

About the Environics Institute
The Environics Institute for Survey Research (www.environicsinstitute.org) was established by Michael Adams in 2006 to promote relevant and original public opinion and social research on important issues of public policy and social change.

About Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute

The Diversity Institute conducts and coordinates multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder research to create practical strategies to advance skills and employment opportunities for women, racialized people, newcomers, Indigenous people, persons living with disabilities and others. The Diversity Institute is home to unique programs such as the Advanced Digital and Professional Training Program (ADaPT) as well as the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub aimed at building an inclusive innovation ecosystem. 

Media Contact

Eglantine Ronfard
Communications Manager
Future Skills Centre

The author of the report is available for media interviews in English and French.