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By: Oksana Kishchuk

One thing the pandemic has brought us is more frequent conversations about mental health. We’ve had more conversations about our own as many of us struggled with new uncertainties and challenges this past year, but also more conversations about the mental health of public figures (Naomi Osaka’s recent appearance in the news comes to mind).

I’ve been really interested in mental health throughout the pandemic, learning how mental health aligns with our self-rate happiness scores, how it has been influenced since the pandemic at our lowest and as we start to recover.

But as many of us begin to take our vacation days this summer, I became interested in mental health in the workplace. Do Canadians feel comfortable prioritizing their mental health at work without fear of facing stigma? And what do we think of the scrutiny public figures might face if they try and have an open conversation about the topic?

A majority of Canadians feel their workplace respects their mental health needs.  Three-quarters (77%) of Canadians feel like they can be open about their mental health and wellbeing in the workplace without facing discrimination, stigma or judgement.

For many Canadians- their workplaces take it a step further than just having a respectful, open conversation about mental health, and place value on employees taking time off to protect their mental health, just the same as physical health. 77% of working Canadians say time off for mental health is treated the same as time off for physical health.

Finally, for a strong majority of working Canadians, they feel encouraged by their employer to take care of their mental health. 79% of working Canadians say in their workplace, they feel encouraged to take care of their mental health without facing discrimination.

All of this is good news for Canadians, but also good news for employers as employees recognize the positive approach many companies seem to have taken to address mental health in their workplaces. As many of us struggled with mental health challenges throughout the pandemic it is good to see many see their employers as an ally rather than an obstacle to managing their mental health.

Aside from the topline numbers however, are there any differences in age, or gender? Or what about unionized employees or those working in specific sectors?

On the whole, those closer to the end of their careers (those 60+) feel a much higher degree of comfort when it comes to talking about mental health in their workplaces and feeling like their mental health needs are respected and not judged. When it comes to feeling encouraged to take care of one’s mental health, the percentage of working Canadians 60+ that agree is 10 pts higher than the percentage of those 18 to 29 (48% vs 39%).

Adding gender to the mix there are some interesting differences but also similarities. Young men and women (those 18 to 29) are just as likely to agree in their workplace they feel encouraged to take care of their mental health without feeling any kind of discrimination. But this is where the similarities end.

Young men are much more likely to feel that time off for mental health and physical health is treated as one and the same (37% of young men strongly agree vs 26% of young women), but a lot less likely to feel like they can be open about their mental health in the workplace (23% of young men strongly agree vs. 32% of young women). These differences are strongest among this younger age bracket and level out for middle-aged and older Canadian employees.

These trends may speak more to stereotypes and stigma among peers than the workplace culture. As young employees work to prove themselves in their workplaces its likely that that both men and women face concerns for stigma among their older peers; for young men it’s the stigma they may face if they were to speak openly about their mental health, while for young women, the struggle seems to be more about taking time off to take a break.

Among other demographics, there is little difference between unionized and non-unionized employees, and no discernable differences between sectors.

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Aside from speaking up and openly discussing mental health in our own workplaces, what about individuals who are in the public and who’s ‘workplace’ may expand into the public and beyond their employer?

We asked Canadians whether they believed different public figures would face stigma if they were to publicly discuss their mental health challenges (back to Naomi Osaka).

It turns out that, while half say they would face some stigma, professional athletes certainly don’t have it the worst. Instead, more Canadians believe Canadian elected officials(62%) and CEOs (60%) face stigma when publicly discussing their mental health than professional athletes (50%), or social media influencers (48%- though this does vary greatly by age).

While it seems there is still a lot of work to be done on open conversations about mental health and anyone the public eye, the areas with the biggest room for improvement seem to be politics and business. And those at the beginning (18-29) and end (60+ of their careers are the most likely to say these two groups face stigma.

Still, it seems like a lot of work needs to be done on allowing more open conversations about mental health and those in the public eye.

THE UPSHOT

According to Oksana Kishchuk: When it comes to the conversation of mental health and the workplace, a majority of Canadian employees are pretty well off. Three quarters of working Canadians feel like we can be open about that part of our lives in the workplace, and that our workplaces will respect our needs to take care of our mental health including take time off for our mental health when we need it.

On the topic of open conversations and mental health it seems there is more work to be done however. Half of Canadians say everyone from professional athletes, CEOs, doctors and elected officials would face stigma if they were to have open conversations about mental health in the workplace.

While the pandemic has made room for more conversations about mental health there is still more work to do, especially when it comes to changing the conversation towards more positive, open conversations about our mental health.

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METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from July 5th to 8th 2021. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

This poll was conducted and paid for by Abacus Data.

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