The Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Community

Aussies have been forced to change.

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all Australians in some way, shape or form over the past 15 months. With recurrent restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures, many Australians have again noticed a change in their ability to complete their normal work, recreational pursuits, and activities of daily life. Nationwide impacts of the pandemic on the population’s mental health and psychological wellbeing have been well documented, both within literature and through increased community recognition of the change to our ‘normal’ everyday experiences.

What do the stats say?

Throughout the month of June 2021, Lifeline, Kids Helpline, and Beyond Blue saw a marked increase in the usage of their services – 19.1%, 7.5%, and 11% respectively, as compared to the same period in 2019. Similarly, the Medicare Benefits Schedule recorded almost 300,000 subsidised services in the week commencing March 22nd, compared to just over 206,000 during the same period in 2019*.

As a result of declining mental health across the population, the Australian government removed restrictions on the ‘Better Access’ scheme to allow a further 10 Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions. Previously these sessions had only been available to the population directly impacted by public health movement restriction orders.

During the outbreaks of 2020 and 2021, an ANUPoll (measured on a 1-10 scale) found that within Australia, levels of psychological distress increased and self-reported life satisfaction decreased as restrictions were tightened and then eased respectively across the states of NSW and Victoria†.

Research from October 2020 about the effects of COVID-19 on the adult population in Australia found that disruptions to work, social, and financial stability in the acute phase of the outbreak were more closely associated to, and predictive of, the decline in community mental health, rather than exposure to the virus itself. These results were consistent with findings from the UK, where citizens reported greater concern over the societal changes impacting their psychological and financial stability.

The rates and severity of mental ill-health have not been consistent across the country, or indeed, the calendar. Instead, data shows the decline in health to be proportional to the restrictions and rates of infection within each individual’s home city/state.

Loneliness and reduced life satisfaction

Beyond this, research has demonstrated that females (44.8%) were more likely to report loneliness compared to males (35.7%) (AIHW, Biddle et al. 2020d). Reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare outline that levels of loneliness and reduced life satisfaction were significant factors in the increase of psychological distress.

With the data outlining that a change in lifestyle and social engagement is a predictive marker for psychological wellbeing, the value in supporting a return to the workforce, social activity, and previously enjoyed lifestyles is more appropriate than ever. Despite the exposure to COVID-19 in the Australian population being comparatively low, the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic have shown the value of whole-being health as an essential part of the recovery of the nation’s health and economy.

How can you help?

What can we do if you – or someone you know – is suffering with their mental health?

References

* https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/people-and-communities/household-impacts-covid-19-survey/latest-release

https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/covid-19

https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/2020/9/Tracking_wellbeing_outcomes_during_the_COVID-19_pandemic_February_to_August_2020.pdf

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia/report-contents/mental-health-impact-of-covid-19

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