Mental health distress in Canada is growing, unevenly spread and costly. And research gaps limit our ability to understand exactly how work and socioeconomic factors affect our mental well-being.
This review of academic and popular research confirms what we instinctively know: our personal situations play a big role in our mental health, especially our work and socioeconomic situations. Numerous high-quality, peer-reviewed research studies draw the link between people’s work or economic situations and their mental health.
The distress is widespread with 54 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has worsened during the pandemic. And the research shows this mental health distress is unevenly spread:
- workers at the centre of the pandemic experienced high levels of anxiety
- communities with lower incomes and more job instability have more people in distress
- bullying and harassment, such as sexual and racist harassment, are a significant cause of distress
- unemployment and job insecurity are associated with depression and anxiety
- jobs with high demands and low control are associated with burnout
The economic costs are high, estimated at about $60 billion a year. People in mental health distress seek help in our hospital emergency rooms. They require help from our emergency and social services workers. They need treatment support. They may miss work or require long-term disability support.
But there is some good news. Since there are socioeconomic determinants driving a lot of Canadians’ mental health distress, socioeconomic policy reforms hold the hope of improving our mental health. The research shows factors like job insecurity, economic insecurity, harassment and working through the pandemic are playing a key role in undermining mental wellbeing. However, the specific factors harming mental well-being are not well-researched. More work needs to be done and the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation intends to continue this research.
The mission of the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation is to contribute to public policy dialogue and provoke discussions on important Canadian conversations through research and education. Tommy Douglas, as premier of Saskatchewan, pioneered Canadian medicare and worked with the federal government to turn it into a national, universal program. Perhaps not surprisingly, his efforts to build socioeconomic security and social cohesion may be key to preventing mental health distress and improving Canadians’ well-being as we try to recover from a pandemic.
We hope this research can provoke a discussion on the work and economic factors driving mental health distress. In our next research phase, due in summer 2022, we plan to look closely at the specific conditions driving mental health distress to more clearly identify who is being hurt and the factors that must be addressed. We hope this work can inform the work of policy reformers interested in creating and implementing policies to improve Canadians’ well-being.
Read the full report here.