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Mind and body: Impact of the pandemic on physical and mental health

The Survey on Employment and Skills, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in collaboration with the Diversity Institute and the Future Skills Centre, was designed to explore Canadians’ experiences with the changing nature of work, including technology-driven disruptions, increasing insecurity and shifting skills requirements.

The second wave of the Survey on Employment and Skills was conducted in late 2020, as the pandemic’s second wave gathered momentum in Canada and the number of new COVID-19 cases steadily increased. The expanded survey explores how different types of workers have been affected by the pandemic, in terms of such things as their hours of work, earnings, location of work, and ability to combine work and family responsibilities.

Key Takeaways

1

Between April 2019 and December 2020, the proportion of Canadians rating their mental health as excellent or very good fell by 15 points, from 53 percent to 38 percent. The proportion saying their mental health is fair or poor increased 10 points over the same period, from 21 to 31 percent.

2

There has been no change in perceptions of mental health in the case of younger Canadians (age 18 to 29); a significant change for those between the ages of 30 and 64; and a dramatic drop among those age 65 and older (especially among women in this age group). In April 2019, 73 percent of women age 65 and older said their mental health was excellent or good, by December 2020 the proportion had fallen to 40 percent.

3

There has been a decline since April 2019 in perceptions of mental health among all major racial identity groups and among those identifying as Indigenous. However, this decline is somewhat larger among those identifying as Chinese.

Executive Summary

This report focuses on Canadians’ perceptions of their physical and mental health, and how these have changed during the pandemic.  It also highlights implications for governments and employers as they begin to prepare for the post pandemic recovery.

The report finds that, between April 2019 and December 2020, Canadians’ perceptions of their physical health and especially their mental health deteriorated. In the case of mental health, the change has been especially dramatic among those age 65 and older. But while the decline in perceptions of mental health have been greater among seniors than among younger adults, it remains the case that younger Canadians, especially younger women, continue to rate their mental health more poorly than others.

While the decline in perceptions of mental health over the past year and a half has been greater among seniors than among younger adults, it remains the case that younger Canadians continue to rate their mental health more poorly than others. The situation of younger women is most concerning. Among those between the ages of 18 and 29, one in two (51%) women, compared to 27 percent of men, say their mental health is fair or poor; among students, the proportions are 52 percent and 32 percent for women and men, respectively.

The findings suggest that Canadians are not all equally well-positioned to bounce back once the pandemic has passed. Preparations for an economic recovery should entail intentionally addressing the poorer health of those whom the pandemic has impacted the most. It falls to governments and employers to put in place policies that can ensure that the economic recovery is one that does not leave behind those Canadians facing health challenges.

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