The Pandemic Is Creating Mental Health Waves

The Pandemic Is Creating Mental Health Waves

According to a recent survey from Sun Life, 56% per cent of Canadians said they felt coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, but close to 60% of these respondents said they weren’t seeking treatment or support (Benefits Canada). With mental health benefit claims surpassing all other types of claims in 2020, experts worry about the pent-up demand for mental healthcare services and the impact it will have on the healthcare system.

Experts call the lasting mental health effects of COVID-19 an “echo pandemic.” The ripples we’ve already seen on Canadians’ mental health could quickly turn into waves that will impact employees and businesses for years to come if mental health concerns are not met and addressed. Some project a “54 to 163 per cent increase” of mental health issues over pre-pandemic levels (Benefits Canada).

The Human Cost

2020 saw a decline in mental health across the board. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health conducted six surveys from May 2020 to December 2020 that showed the mirror progression of mental health with the waves of the pandemic. Here were some of their survey findings:

  • Women, parents, and young adults felt the mental health effects of the pandemic more significantly.
  • 24.3% of survey respondents reported moderate to severe anxiety levels.
  • 23.3% reported feeling lonely occasionally or most of the time in the past week.
  • 21.7% reported feeling depressed occasionally or most of the time in the past week.
  • 25.7% reported binge drinking in the last week.
  • In their October survey, 10% of respondents reported having suicidal thoughts.

The Economic Cost

While we don’t know all the long-term mental health effects, we do know that mental health has long been under-invested in, says Dr. Hayley Hamilton, Senior Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH (CAMH, 2020).

This underinvestment could be financially detrimental to businesses who don’t take action to address psychological health in the workplace now. For a typical organization with 2000 employees, the cost of doing nothing could rack up millions of dollars according to estimations (Gowan Consulting, 2020). Absenteeism due to poor health is just the tip of the iceberg. Intangible risk factors, like chronic pain, disciplinary actions, bullying, stress, complaints, and presenteeism could cost organizations more than $25 million a year. According to research, 64% of employees self-report giving 70% or less of their best effort every day at work. Stress, lack of childcare, working in difficult environments, lack of ergonomics, lack of access to technology, worry, and anxiety have all been contributing factors to this presenteeism in 2020.

The investment in mental health rises exponentially when organizations choose to react to psychological health issues rather than take action to prevent them.

The Barriers to Getting Help

Recognizing the need to improve psychological health in the workplace is a good step but getting mental health access to those who need it may prove more of a challenge.

When surveyed about barriers preventing people from accessing support for mental health, 22% of respondents said they couldn’t afford it, 17% said they didn’t know where to get help or who to ask, and 12% said they were embarrassed to ask for help (Benefits Canada, 2020). A survey conducted by The Canadian Psychological Association reported similar results:

  • 78% of survey respondents said access to psychological services cost too much and 73% said that they weren’t covered by provincial health plans.
  • 68% said wait times are too long.
  • 66% said psychological services aren’t covered by their employers’ health plans.

The medium annual maximum for counselling services is $1,000, with 68% of plan sponsors having a maximum of even less. The Canadian Psychological Association recommends 15 to 20 sessions costing up to $4,000.

Financial barriers, lack of education and awareness, stigma, and inability to access psychological services during the pandemic have proven challenging to employees who need the support the most. So how can they access the care they need?

What Can Employers Do?

  1. Develop a strong psychological health and safety program.
  2. Listen to your employees with empathy, attention, and respect.
  3. Look for signs of distress. Your employees may not know how to ask for help.
  4. Give your team tools to develop resiliency.
  5. Check in regularly with your team to reduce isolation.
  6. Help employees come up with strategies for balancing home and work responsibilities.
  7. Implement education sessions on mental health for the whole team.
  8. Provide accommodations where possible.
  9. Encourage supports and access to resources like the EAP program.
  10. Make a referral here to get customized solutions for your team.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Occupational Therapists are the ideal mental health professionals for supporting your employees. Their knowledge of the workplace allows them to help modify jobs and environments and give employees to tools to develop personal strategies. They are not just talk therapists—they are activity and strategy-based and they empower employees to take ownership of their function and productivity. They practice work-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is an evidence-based approach to ensuring that employees can have better self-care and resiliency.

Gowan Consulting is a national organization with more than 150 Occupational Therapists across Canada. We provide Occupational Therapy coaching virtually and onsite. Ease of access and proactive onsite or virtual support ensures that employees can stay at or return to work.

We want to help your organization – make a referral here or contact us at to learn more.

Here are some other tools that can also be implemented:

  • Check out our new Working from Home Series! We are offering live sessions as well as a webinar bundle deal to help you get a fresh start for 2021. Our webinars cover mental health, home ergonomics, tips for working during COVID-19, and more. Get the webinar bundle for yourself or for your whole organization! Our first live session is Making Working Remotely Feel Normal and it will be taking place on February 10th from 1:00 to 2:00pm EST. Get $20.00 off your next live session or the bundle when you sign up. For more information, you can contact us at
  • Manager Mental Health Training is now running all year long! The next session takes place on February 23, 2021 from 9:00am to 1:00pm EST. Registrations are opening soon! To get a full list of dates or to get more information on our sessions, email
  • Listen to Nicolette Gowan’s new meditation “In the Now with Nicolette— now for free on Youtube!
  • TIPS for Return to the Workplace Program– Consider enrolling in our new 4-session work-focused CBT program to assist you or your employees in having the strategies to successfully return to or stay at work.

Works Cited

Is private and public health care ready for a mental-health tsunami?, Benefits Canada, Sonya Felix, November 27, 2020,

56% of Canadians say coronavirus negatively impacting mental health: survey, Benefits Canada, May 11, 2020,

Goodbye 2020 Hello 2021 Strategies for Productivity and Success, Gowan Consulting, January 20, 2021,

Anxiety patterns in Canadians mirror progression of pandemic, CAMH, December 15, 2020,

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