According to the January 2023 Mental Health Index compiled by TELUS Health (formerly LifeWorks), 20 per cent of Canadians have cut back on health-related expenses. The Mental Health Index is based on a monthly survey of 3,000 people.
The January results indicate that the effect of inflation is particularly apparent among certain groups. For example, parents are 70 per cent more likely than non-parents to limit their health-related spending.
In addition, the Index shows that 19 per cent of workers attribute the decline in their relationship with their spouse or partner to financial pressure. Those with annual household incomes under $100,000 are 80 per cent more likely to pin their relationship problems on financial pressure than those with higher annual household incomes.
Medication is among the most affected health expenses. According to the Mental Health Index survey, 7 per cent of Canadians are limiting their prescription drug use because of inflation. This group has a mental health score that is more than 18 points lower than the national average.
The results also underline the importance of having emergency savings. Respondents without savings are more than twice as likely as those with savings to limit spending on prescription drugs and health-related expenses.
On a brighter note, the national mental health score has risen slightly since November 2022. At 64.8 out of 100 points in January 2023, it is close to the peak of 65.1 reached in August and September 2022. By comparison, the January 2022 score was 63.5.
“The current economic environment is leading many employees to feel pressure to prioritize finances over their health and wellbeing. This is an impossible choice as one is not mutually exclusive from the other,” said Michael Dingle, Chief Operating Officer of TELUS Health. He views financial wellbeing as a fundamental contributor to overall health.
Canadians are also using other strategies to rein in expenses: 63 per cent of Index survey participants say they have cut back on discretionary spending. Forty-one per cent say they are staying home more.
According to the Index, 19 per cent of Canadians are not feeling any impact of inflation. This group has the highest mental health score, at 77.1. Their score tops the national average of 64.8 by more than 12 points.
As another trend, people are increasingly distancing themselves from one another. The TELUS Health survey found that 32 per cent of participants said they avoid being with or interacting with others. Sixty-two per cent said their avoidance started or worsened since the pandemic began. This group has a mental health score more than 13 points lower than the national average.
What’s more, 21 per cent of Canadian workers say they are having difficulty controlling their emotions. Sixty-four per cent say this difficulty started or worsened since the pandemic was declared.
Use of EAP
“Our data shows that we continue to be under strain. A major concern is that the same strain often increases the behaviours that isolate us. The isolation then makes our stress worse. This is a cycle that can significantly worsen mental health. The best thing is to address the source of the strain and/or look carefully at how you respond,” says Paula Allen, Global Leader Research and Total Well-being at Telus Health.
Allen points out that counselling can help people see things more objectively, and leverage problem solving and stress management skills “that you might already have, but have forgotten during stress.” She adds that Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer voluntary confidential support that can help prevent a negative cycle.
Michael Dingle believes that employers can support the wellbeing of their employees by offering comprehensive EAPs, which include health benefits and financial counselling. TELUS Health delivers EAPs to large corporations such as Desjardins Insurance and Walmart Canada.