Canadian workers increasingly recognize mental illness as a disability, but stigma remains

RBC Insurance survey reveals fear of repercussions can impede willingness to seek help

  • More Canadians are recognizing depression and anxiety as disabilities compared to last year
  • Yet three-quarters of working Canadians say they either would be reluctant or unwilling to admit to a boss or co-worker that they were suffering from a mental illness
  • The top reason given for reluctance to admit to a mental illness is the belief that there is a public stigma around mental health
  • Three-quarters believe that to not disclose a mental illness would have a negative impact on their own personal wellbeing

Toronto, ON (Sept. 24, 2019) – While more Canadians are recognizing depression (53 per cent) and anxiety (41 per cent) as disabilities compared to last year (47 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively), a stigma around mental health still exists, according to a recent RBC Insurance survey.

Three-quarters of working Canadians say either they would be reluctant to admit (48 per cent) or they would not admit (27 per cent) to a boss or co-worker that they were suffering from a mental illness. Furthermore, the proportion who say they would not admit they were suffering from a mental illness is almost three times as high as it is for a physical illness (27 per cent vs. 10 per cent).

The top reasons for either not admitting or being reluctant to admit a mental illness are:

  1. Believing that there is a public stigma around mental health (45 per cent);
  2. Not wanting to be treated differently (44 per cent);
  3. Not wanting to be judged (40 per cent);
  4. Fear of negative consequences, such as losing their job (36 per cent).

“It’s encouraging to see that Canadians are making the connection between mental illness and disability, most likely because of educational efforts and the openness of those who are willing to share their personal struggles,” says Maria Winslow, Senior Director, Life & Health, RBC Insurance. “However, it’s apparent that the perception of stigma still exists, which impedes some people’s ability or willingness to speak up and seek help.”

Admitting illness: Perception of self vs. others

Adding to the perceived stigma of mental illnesses, half (47 per cent) of working Canadians believe that if they admitted they were suffering from a mental illness to a boss/co-worker, their ability to do their job would be questioned. An additional two in 10 (20 per cent) say they feel their boss/co-worker would look at them in a negative light or distance themselves. In comparison, only 7 per cent feel this way about a physical illness.

Yet, when asked how they would react if a co-worker/boss admitted that they were suffering from a mental illness, 76 per cent said they would be completely comfortable and supportive, an interesting discrepancy.

Recognizing the toll

Canadians recognize the toll that not disclosing a mental illness can take on oneself and those around them. Three-quarters (75 per cent) believe it would have a negative impact on their own personal wellbeing, and six in 10 or more believe it would have a negative impact on their relationships with family (66 per cent), productivity at work (65 per cent), relationships with friends (64 per cent) and relationships with co-workers (64 per cent). More than half (57 per cent) believe it would negatively impact how quickly they can return to work following a leave.

“Canadians fear repercussions if they admit to a mental illness, which may prevent them from getting the help they need,” adds Winslow. “However, if left untreated, a mental illness can ultimately have greater consequences if it leads to job loss and financial strain, particularly if an individual doesn’t have adequate coverage in place.”

An employee is under no obligation to disclose a specific diagnosis. However, acknowledging a health challenge and seeking accommodation from a supervisor or HR leader may help others in the workplace understand any changes in behaviour or performance. In addition, consider the following tips:

  • Ensure coverage: Mental illness takes both an emotional and financial toll. It’s important that Canadians not only ensure they have disability coverage, but that they understand the details of their policy – how their plan defines a disability and what is and isn’t covered.
  • Utilize available workplace programs and services: For example, RBC Insurance offers their clients Onward by Best Doctors, a program that provides confidential, personal support and faster access to treatment from top mental health specialists.
  • Stay connected: Having a trusted network of support such as family, friends or professionals to reach out to when necessary is critical to recovery.
  • Have a plan of action: Education around treatments and long-term outlook is important to help work through a diagnosis. Keep a journal and list methods of self-care, including setting goals and ways to stay healthy.
  • Look for flexible benefits. Every individual’s needs for time off differ, including how they return to work. Look for insurance coverage that offers options for partial or residual disability, and a gradual return to work.

About the Survey

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between April 9 to 11, 2019. For this survey, a sample of 1,501 employed Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ±2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

About RBC Insurance

RBC Insurance® offers a wide range of life, health, home, auto, travel, wealth, annuities and reinsurance advice and solutions, as well as creditor and business insurance services to individual, business and group clients. RBC Insurance is the brand name for the insurance operating entities of Royal Bank of Canada, one of North America’s leading diversified financial services companies. RBC Insurance is among the largest Canadian bank-owned insurance organizations, with approximately 2,900 employees who serve more than five million clients globally. For more information, please visit

Source: RBC Insurance

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