Covid-19, Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the Workplace
The onset of this pandemic has brought with it a host of problems. Concerns about employment and finances, fear and struggles with uncertainty over health and safety and the social isolation that comes with public health measures are taking their toll on mental health in Canada and around the world. In a recent poll, 50% of Canadians reported a notable drop in their mental health since the onset of the pandemic. Four percent reported being worried and 41% said their anxiety had risen dramatically. In another survey, 81% of Canadian workers polled reported a significant decline in their mental health since the beginning of COVID-19. Depression, anxiety, domestic violence, even suicide is all on the rise.
Is it any surprise that substance use is also on the rise in 2020? Of those polled, 25% of Canadians aged 35-54 and 21% of those aged 18-34 report significant increases in their alcohol consumption since the onset of the pandemic. Our current situation is not unique, similar problems were reported in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak in 2003 where mood disorders and Post Traumatic Stress symptoms were also common.
As organizations struggle to find a new normal, the need for more information regarding substance abuse and mental health is on the rise. From a Health and Safety stand point, policy revision needs to be addressed. The world is changing. If an organization wants to survive, this change must be embraced. That starts with a good Emergency Preparedness plan. Is your workforce educated? Are resources available? What do you do in the event of a potentially fatal overdose or mental health crises in the workplace? Training and communication are paramount. Access to mental health services is also vital.
If you don’t have a drug and alcohol policy, now is the time to get one. If you have one in place, now is the time to review and update it. Communication with employees about health and safety regarding current trends is a good starting point. Outlining the help that is available and a clear statement of the organizations expectations regarding substance use should be a part of your drug and alcohol policy. If your organization is unionized, work with the local(s) to get the word out. Consider pre-employment and return-to-work testing for workers who have been laid off due to government mandates or work slowdowns. Training for management and supervision on fit-for-duty and reasonable suspicion will help them recognize the signs if someone is struggling with mental health or substance use problems. It’s also important for supervision to know the workers they are supervising. Changes in behavior, hygiene, unsteady gait amongst other symptoms can alert a supervisor that there is a need to reach out and offer assistance. In some cases, intervention may be necessary to keep the worker and their co-workers safe.
Diligence is important when it comes to concerns of substance use and mental health concerns in the workplace. To be treated fairly, policies, documentation and adherence to procedure must be exhaustive. Don’t know where to start? We can help you with that.
Daniel Hearn, Junior Consultant
2BSure Substance Abuse Professional Services
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (The), (2020). Mental health in Canada: Covid-19 and beyond. Retrieved from,
Yearwood, Tom, (2020). Warning to employers: drug, alcohol abuse soars during COVID-19. Retrieved from,