Canadians who recognize anxiety and depression as a disability hits three-year high: survey finds

Mar 1 2022, 3:50 pm

Sponsored by RBC Insurance

The societal circumstances influencing Canadians’ mental health can already be challenging. Layer on pandemic’s lingering unpredictability and we find ourselves still learning to adjust.

However, attitudes around health and wellness among employees and employers continue to shift, which is positively impacting our approach to these ongoing important issues.

These attitude shifts have led to a record-high number of Canadians who view mental illnesses as a disability. A recent RBC Insurance survey found that a significant number of Canadians now recognize depression and anxiety as a disability — in the same way a physical condition can impair one’s ability to carry out day-to-day work or life activities.

And although this acknowledgment may seem bleak, the change of perspective is a significant — and positive — stepping stone in taking action towards one’s mental health.

Unsurprisingly, after two years of unprecedented (how sick are we of that word?) circumstances, people are stressed out.

According to the RBC Insurance survey, feelings of burnout emerged as the main source of stress for working Canadians, while finances and income protection — if one were to get sick with COVID or another illness — ranked as the second-highest stressor. These were closely followed by the pressures of having increased work hours and/or workload. 

Long-term, serious stress poses increased risks to our overall well-being and mental health — and can lead to anxiety and depression, among other medical problems. In fact, the survey found that just over half (54%) of us now rate our mental health as excellent or good, which has dropped significantly since 2019.

“Recognizing that disabilities can be mental and not just physical in nature is a meaningful shift that we’ve seen Canadians make over the years,” says Maria Winslow, RBC insurance senior director of Life & Health. “This is particularly important as people continue to deal with the ongoing stresses of the pandemic and report a decline in their mental health.”

And it turns out that younger Canadians are especially affected by these mental health challenges. The survey found that 18- to 34-year-olds reported more challenges with anxiety and depression compared to those 55 and older. 

This matches up with RBC Insurance claim trends among their clients. In 2021, over one-third of new, individual long-term disability claims among those between the ages of 18 to 39 were related to mental health — and this has been consistently trending upward since 2019.

With such uncertain times, it’s important to go easy on yourself and try to regulate feelings of frustration over what you can’t control. What’s important to remember is what you can control — prioritizing sleep, healthy eating, breaks from work, personal time, connection with others, and ensuring your self-care is a top priority.

Adjusting lifestyle, spending habits, and being prepared for injury, illness, or unforeseen circumstances, are also proven to reduce stress.

For example, feelings of stress or anxiety were significantly lower among the survey respondents who had a group benefits plan through work. Those who bought their own disability coverage were more likely to rate their mental health as excellent or good. 

Yet fewer people report having disability coverage, either through their workplace benefits or an individual disability plan — something that can help replace lost income if you are unable to work for an extended period.

Winslow suggests that with these survey findings comes valuable insight into the increased importance of disability coverage — particularly given the rise of the gig economy — to people’s financial security.

“The number of Canadians with disability coverage has declined from the peak of the pandemic to today,” says Winslow. “But as mental health challenges continue to rise and the future remains uncertain, it’s more important than ever for all Canadians to consider their options for financial protection.”

To learn more about ways to prepare and protect yourself, visit the RBC Insurance website here. For mental health information and resources, visit

Individual, Group Life, and Health insurance is underwritten by RBC Life Insurance Company. 

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