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Mental health at work: how are we doing?

COVID · Jan 1, 2021

It is looming. We read about it. We discuss it. And more than anything, we experience it. The pandemic has changed our daily routines dramatically, and it’s affecting most of us in significant ways: new data suggests that the number of people in Canada reporting strong mental health has plummeted by 23%, a drop from about two-thirds of the population to less than half1.

Our new reality

As of December 2020, working Canadians reported the lowest mental health levels since the pandemic began2. More than 1.5 million Canadians have expressed an unmet need for mental health care, and 7.5 million of us are reporting living with a mental health problem or illness3. Many still don’t have access to the right treatment4.

Depression levels are more prevalent than ever in our country: one in four Canadians are feeling lonely, occasionally or most of the time, and as many again are feeling moderate to extreme levels of anxiety5. Those with children in the household are reporting higher levels of anxiety than those without; women are reporting higher levels of loneliness than men5.

Fortunately, workplaces are realizing that they have a major role to play in their employees’ mental health — by exploring new solutions and resources, and by fostering a culture that prioritizes mental wellbeing, compassion and kindness.

New best practices in sight

In our pandemic world, more and more employers are making psychiatrists, psychologists, family doctors, social workers, and other health professionals available to their employees who are suffering from mental disorders, and to those who are looking to stay proactive about their mental health. Virtual healthcare has played a pivotal role in this positive shift.

But a shift in thinking is as important as a shift in the services employers make available to their people. We need to start looking at mental health as a continuum: it is not only a matter of being well or feeling bad — it is normal to be in different parts of this continuum at any given time, and for our state of wellness to vary day-by-day.

The work of HR and business leaders is to proactively support people wherever they might find themselves on the continuum of mental health. In today’s world, Canadians should be connected to trusted healthcare professionals or to their physical clinics with one or two clicks: this is the power of virtual healthcare.

Are we actually listening?

We are all getting more comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. But it is up to leaders to create a culture where these conversations are seen as proactive and genuine.

Innovative tools and models of care are constantly being developed and implemented, yet one of the most valuable tools any leader can have is the capacity to listen, and to normalize ways to seek help.

Our shared humanity makes us all part of the way forward.

Explore our nationwide mental health services.

Adapted from an interview with Dr. Dominik Nowak, Physician Lead for the TELUS Medical Advisory Council


1 Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – COVID-19 National Survey Dashboard – What Canadians are reporting about their mental health and substance use during the pandemic - November 27 to December 1, 2020 with 1,003 respondents.

2 Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – COVID-19 National Survey Dashboard – What Canadians are reporting about their mental health and substance use during the pandemic - November 27 to December 1, 2020 with 1,003 respondents.

3 Mental Health Commission of Canada. (March 2017) Strengthening the Case for Investing in Canada’s Mental Health System : Economic Considerations. Ottawa, ON: Mental Health Commission of Canada.

4 Statistics Canada, Health Fact Sheets, Mental Health Care Needs, 2018, released October 2019, Catalogue no 82-625-X, ISSN 1929-9118

5 Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – COVID-19 National Survey Dashboard – What Canadians are reporting about their mental health and substance use during the pandemic - November 27 to December 1, 2020 with 1,003 respondents.

Authored by:
Dr. Dominik Nowak
Physician lead for the TELUS Medical Advisory Council