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Canadians mental health issues more likely to view it as disability

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In a year when the global pandemic has sent stress levels soaring, Canadians who have had experience with mental health challenges, or taking time off for disabilities, are more likely to see mental health illnesses as a disability.

While half (51 per cent) of Canadians view issues such as depression or anxiety as a disability, this proportion is significantly higher among those who have familiarity with taking time off work for a disability (59 per cent) compared to those who don’t know anyone or have not taken time off themselves (39 per cent), according to a recent poll by RBC Insurance.

“Diagnosed depression and anxiety can indeed be debilitating, but the findings show that most of us don’t truly understand the impact of something until we’ve experienced it ourselves,” says Maria Winslow, Senior Director, Life & Health, RBC Insurance. “There is still a large portion of Canadians who do not consider the sometimes ‘invisible’ ailments of depression and anxiety as disabilities, yet, mental illness causes the majority of disability claims at RBC Insurance.”

This same trend is seen when it comes to talking about their struggles. Canadians overall are increasingly more comfortable with the idea of disclosing a mental illness (77 per cent indicated they would comfortably or reluctantly disclose it, vs 73 per cent last year). However, among the respondents who have experience with taking time off for a disability, 80 per cent would disclose their struggles, compared to 72 per cent who haven’t taken, or don’t know someone who has taken time off for a disability.

Among those who feel reluctant to admit or would not admit to struggling with a mental illness, the top reasons for not disclosing their struggles are privacy, fear of being treated differently and stigma. This represents a shift from 2019, when stigma was the biggest barrier to disclosure.

The survey indicates that a personal history experiencing disability also affects attitudes towards disability insurance. Canadians who have seen the impact of taking time off for a disability are more likely to deem disability coverage more important, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Specifically, a quarter of respondents say buying disability coverage is more important to them since the pandemic, while one-in-five say they are more likely to purchase this coverage since COVID-19.

In general, Canadians are increasingly purchasing their own disability insurance, which provides money that can replace lost income. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of Canadians have purchased their own disability coverage, up 8 points from last year, meaning more than half (55 per cent) of Canadians now have coverage either through their workplace benefits or an individual disability plan, compared to 50 per cent in 2019.

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