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Canadians with experience of mental health issues more likely to view it as disability

RBC Insurance poll finds attitudes more likely to shift with personal exposure

TORONTO, September 22, 2020 - 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.”

Attitudes to admitting struggles are shifting
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.

However, Canadians recognize the toll that not disclosing a mental illness can take on oneself and those around them. Seven-in-ten believe it would have a negative impact on their own personal wellbeing, while two-thirds feel there are negative consequences for family and friend relationships. Not only are personal relationships at home affected, but those surveyed also feel that there is a negative impact on work productivity (67 per cent) and co-worker relationships (65 per cent).

Interest in disability coverage spikes since COVID-19
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.

“When confronted with a disability, be it physical or mental in nature, the last thing that should be on your mind is worrying about finances,” says Winslow. “The good news is more Canadians are taking the initiative of protecting themselves from the risk of financial hardship should they have to take time off work because of disability.”

About the RBC Insurance Survey
These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of RBC Insurance. For the poll a sample of 1001 adult Canadians who are employed or recently laid off (but looking to return to work) was surveyed online via the Ipsos I-Say panel from July 14 to July 16, 2020. This population is referred to as “Canadians” throughout the report but should not be taken to be representative of the general population, but rather this subset of Canadians. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census information. The precision of online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case the results are considered accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had all employed or recently laid off adults been surveyed. The credibility interval will be wider for subsets of the population.

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

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For more information, please contact:
Kiara Famularo, RBC Corporate Communications, 647-272-4077