The Pulse

Politics, Pandemic & People

How our health, personal and political, is taking its toll on mental health of Americans

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index for October continues to trend well below the pre-pandemic benchmark with a decline in work productivity. Access the report here.

CHICAGO, Nov. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ – Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, today released its monthly Mental Health Index report, revealing a consistent trend of negative mental health among Americans at the seven-month mark of the pandemic. The Mental Health Index™ for October is -6.2, showing that Americans’ mental health continues to be at risk, with concerns related to the presidential election adding to the continuing emotional strain of the pandemic.

The Mental Health Index score, which measures the improvement or decline in mental health from the pre-2020 benchmark of 75, remains essentially unchanged from September (-6.3). This trend is displayed across the majority of sub-scores tracked in The Mental Health Index™, including financial risk (7.4), psychological health (2.1), isolation (-6.2), depression (-7.5), optimism (-7.5) and anxiety (-8.0).

Despite a high level of need, Americans are largely unwilling to seek mental health support. Almost half (43 percent) of respondents report the need for additional mental health support. Seven percent of respondents indicate they need support but have not sought it. This group has an extremely low mental health score (-31.9).

Work Productivity Has Declined

Workplace productivity declined in October to -8.3, compared to -7.8 in September, which was lower than the -5.3 in August. At this point, work productivity is similar to the lowest point of -8.7 in April 2020. Another negative trend is evident in financial risk where scores also declined for the second month in a row, reflecting a reversal of the increase in savings from April to July.

“We have now been dealing with the physical, social, financial and mental impacts of COVID-19 for more than half of a year, with no clear end in sight,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “This strain is negatively impacting the productivity of Americans as well as their quality of life and potentially their longer-term health. The new normal is no longer new and it’s a critical time for businesses and governments to prioritize the serious mental health threat this poses.”

Stress of Presidential Election Detrimental to Americans’ Mental Health

The particularly divisive lead-up to the 2020 presidential election had a significant impact on the mental health of Americans in October. Nearly half of respondents (43 percent) indicated that the election has negatively impacted their mental health, while only 16 percent stated the election had a positive impact on their mental health. Those experiencing a negative impact also had the lowest mental health score (-11.5), which is a stark difference when compared to those who indicated they are undecided (-2.3) or those that felt the election has impacted their mental health positively (-1.5).

“Americans have been faced with significant stress-inducing change in these past seven months and the election is taking this stress to the next level,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “Uncertainty, whether driven by the election or ongoing pandemic-related concerns, continues to put the mental wellbeing of Americans at risk. A major concern is that many are starting to accept this as normal. We may see the distress around us and may not take action for ourselves since we feel that is just the way it is. This view is as dangerous as the risk situation that we are in.”

The perceived handling of the health and safety risk of the pandemic by government is also divided. While the majority of respondents (60 percent) felt that their local government is handling the pandemic’s risks well, 38 percent felt the federal government has handled COVID-19’s health and safety risks poorly, and 25 percent feel that it has been handled inconsistently. Those who believe it has been handled inconsistently have a lower mental health score (-8.2) than either of the other groups.

This strain is negatively impacting the productivity of Americans as well as their quality of life and potentially their longer-term health...

Excerpts from the Mental Health Index

Considerations for Employers

The ongoing strain of the pandemic is clearly having an impact on the work productivity of Americans. In October, the productivity of Americans is as compromised as it was in April 2020, even after an initial improvement. In the September Mental Health Index report, we saw 30 percent of respondents indicating that they find it more difficult to concentrate on work than before the pandemic; 37 percent indicating that they feel more mentally and/or physically exhausted at the end of the work day; and 32 percent indicating that they find it more difficult
to feel motivated to do work than before the pandemic.

Another concern is the negative trend in financial risk for the second consecutive month. It is clear that we will be dealing with COVID-19 for some time, and the impact of the pandemic for some time after that. The current trends suggest that the strain is taking its toll. To address this, it is important for organizations to address certain specific issues as well as the mental health risk overall.

1. Work Productivity

With the emotional strain of change and uncertainty from the pandemic, work can become more difficult. Forty-three percent indicate that they need to put more effort into work. The additional risk is that changes in our routines have made it less likely that people have the experiences that provide recovery.

  • Employers can bring the risk of burnout to the attention of employees, including the range of causes and strategy. Burnout is not always about work. Strain from caregiving, compassion or frustration can also create the same emotional exhaustion. Burnout occurs when there is insufficient recovery from stress. Recovery for stress is not passive. It requires actions, thoughts and interactions that reset our level of stress. At a minimum, each individual needs a sense of accomplishment, supportive social contact, fun/laughter and physical movement every day.
  • Flexibility at work is the workplace strategy that has been the most helpful to employees’ productivity. Ensure that people leaders are aware of this and are equipped to support reasonable flexibility
  • It is also important to reinforce the need to reach out for professional support when things feel overwhelming. Those who need help but do not reach out have the lowest mental health scores.

2. Financial Wellbeing

Each month since April has shown that financial uncertainty is the strongest driver of mental health. The presence or absence of an emergency fund is a strong predictor of one’s mental health index score. The connection between financial and mental wellbeing has long been established.

  • Employers can highlight and offer resources to support financial wellbeing. These resources ideally support employees’ knowledge as well as their actions with respect to finances. From Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Priorities research, almost half of employees feel that they are managing their finances less well than others with the same income. This is a clear opportunity for education and support.
  • Leverage and remind employees of financial consultation in your Employee Assistance or Work Life Program if one is available.
  • Financial wellbeing resources and training are a good investment at this time and will have a positive impact on employees.




About the Mental Health Index
The monthly survey by Morneau Shepell was conducted through an online survey in English from September 28 to October 19, 2020, with 5,000 respondents in the United States. All respondents reside in the United States and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The full U.S. report can be found at
About Morneau Shepell
Morneau Shepell is a leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in 162 countries. For more information, visit