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Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been publishing a monthly Mental Health Index, which measures the mental health of Canadians each month in comparison to mental-health scores before the pandemic. While Canadians' mental health has declined overall in the past eight months, one segment of the population has really struggled: young people.

Through our research, we found that mental-health scores tend to get better with age. The youngest group of survey respondents, age 20-29, consistently reported the lowest mental-health scores throughout the pandemic – much worse than any other age group.

Younger Canadians are feeling the impact on their mental health for many reasons. In particular, the financial uncertainly brought by the pandemic is likely much greater when one is younger, given limited savings and concern about job security or future prospects. We also know that the younger population is more likely to have roommates, which could cause additional stress in all four areas of well-being – mental, physical, social and financial. Many Canadians with roommates may be struggling with communicating boundaries, aligning on values, sharing a workspace, keeping shared living spaces clean, limiting social interactions, balancing professionalism at home and paying the bills.

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As we combat the second wave of the pandemic, here are some tips for those who are living with roommates and want to protect their well-being throughout the winter months:

  1. Set boundaries – Similarly to what every employee should do with their colleagues, it is important to also set boundaries with roommates. This means, deciding what you need in order to be productive (e.g., quiet times throughout the day, dedicated times for use of the common areas, agreements on cleaning duties). This is especially valuable if one or more of you are working from home. Make sure to communicate your needs as honestly as possible, respect each other’s boundaries and revise them if something isn’t working well.
  2. Schedule work and personal time – If everyone is working similar hours, it can help to schedule lunch breaks or dedicate a couple evenings a week to shared dinners and movie nights. You may also want to set aside some alone time to go for a walk or read a book, as such activities can be helpful when you need to recharge. I encourage anyone who is living with others to create a shared calendar – whether it’s a whiteboard on the living room wall, a paper calendar on the fridge or a virtual document that everyone can update.
  3. Share quiet spaces – Once you have your shared calendar, you may also want to book specific rooms. Perhaps one roommate has a desk in their room and is willing to make it available to whoever needs it during an important meeting or you might want to make a note that during certain times, the shared television should remain off. It may also be useful to invest in noise-cancelling headphones and always be ready to hit the mute button when needed.
  4. Seek and offer support – For those who are struggling, seek support through your organization’s employee and family assistance program. Additionally, you probably know your roommates better than anyone else, so if you notice a change in behaviour or they confide in you, offer support and suggest they seek counselling as soon as possible. It is important that we are all there for each other during this difficult time.

Mary Ann Baynton said in a recent Living Well podcast episode: “All of us are going to become more self-aware. All of us are going to understand that we all have resilience – it’s just a muscle that you need to build up. I think we’re going to value connection to people in a way that we never did before. I also think the pandemic is making us understand our interdependence. Your well-being and your ability to thrive directly impacts me so I want it for you as much as I want it for me.”

It’s a good point for everyone to remember as we look to protect our well-being and the well-being of our roommates, friends, family members and colleagues through the pandemic.


Stephen Liptrap is the CEO of Morneau Shepell.

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Stephen Liptrap is the president and chief executive officer at Morneau Shepell. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for November, 2020.

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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