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Use of mental health medications spiked across Canada during pandemic

Employers need concrete plans to help employees with mental health


July 9, 2020
By Talent Canada Staff

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Photo: BackyardProduction/Getty Images

The number of workers across Canada who are taking antidepressants has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research conducted by Express Scripts Canada.

It found an 11 per cent jump in claims for the drugs between January and June 2020 compared to the same period last year.

It also found that, during the pre-isolation period, claims increased 20 per cent — indicating that some patients may have been filling medications despite warnings that stockpiling might lead to drug shortages.

“This analysis suggests that Canadians were focused on the pandemic and fearful that they would run out of their medications which is further evidence of the serious impact COVID-19 is having on Canadians’ mental health,” the company said in a press release.

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The data also suggests that there was an increase of new users for medications used to treat depression and these claims continue to climb.

“The pandemic has taken a psychological toll on Canadians across the country,” said Dorian Lo, president, Express Scripts Canada.

“Our research shows that Canadians are increasingly turning to mental health medications to find some relief.”

Mental health support critical

Given the depression rate is likely to continue to increase and will remain high, especially in those at-risk (for example, those who suffered a job loss, the loss of a parent due to COVID-19 and front-line workers worried they would get ill), it is evident that taking care of mental health is more important than ever.

“The increased use of medications used to treat problems related to mental health is understandable given the global nature of the pandemic and there needs to be a heightened awareness on employee well-being,” said Lo. “Mental health conditions generally require longer-term treatment so these claims will persist, and employers will need to consider holistic approaches to care. Employers need concrete plans to assist employees with mental health concerns. As well, employers must ensure employees who are experiencing mental health conditions have access to doctors, pharmacists, therapists and prescription medications.”

Other findings

Other key findings from the research:

  • Two other key therapeutic classes of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic are asthma/COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and drugs to prevent infection. Medications for asthma and COPD saw the largest change in claims volume.
  • Drugs used to prevent infections (anti-infectives) saw a steep decline in claims as sites of common transmission (workplaces, schools, daycares and gyms) were closed and there was an increased consciousness about and practice of hygiene practices (such as hand washing, sanitizing, not touching the face, etc.)
  • Claims for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (commonly used for chronic illness, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, on a long-term basis) rose prior to the pre-self-isolation period but were not sustained.

Related: Survey on mental health


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Please complete and share with colleagues the confidential survey Employees’ Perceived Psychological Health & Safety Risk Screen. Talent Canada and Howatt HR are conducting a study to explore how well the Psychological Vulnerability in the Workplace model (outlined below) is working. We’ll be putting our results in a report and sharing it live during Talent Canada’s Workplace Mental Health Virtual Summit on Sept. 15, 2020. Stay tuned to Talent Canada for more information about this must-attend event for leaders, HR professionals and front-line managers.