The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious threat to mental health in the world. Even though the number of people infect with COVID-19 in Australia is much lower than other countries, we found that the mood of the population was negatively affect by restrictions and lockdowns.
This can make it more difficult for people to get work done and a part of society. Policy makers should focus their attention on what they can do for people to help them adapt to a COVID-normal life. Our new survey research provides important insight into how people see themselves as able to adjust.
Our Research Threat
Two anonymous online surveys conduct in 2020 among Australians aged 18 and over about their experiences with COVID 19, as well as their mental health. The first survey was conduct in April, shortly after COVID-19 restrictions were implement nationwide. The second was launch in August, after restrictions had eased in Victoria.
We included 16 possible policies in the second survey and asked respondents to choose which would help them get out of the COVID-19 restrictions. These policies included policies on mental health, financial support and employment assistance. They also provided access to telehealth and support for community organizations. Government management of future pandemics was also included.
What Threat We Found
The first survey was completed by more than 13,000 participants. More than one-fourth of those surveyed had symptoms of depression, and over one-fifth had anxiety symptoms during the first month of COVID restrictions. This was more than twice the rate of non-COVID periods.
More than 9,000 people completed the second survey. Surprisingly, people who live in areas where restrictions have eased didn’t feel any better than they did during the first survey. It was also surprising that people living in Victoria locked down felt worse than those elsewhere.
Respondents supported planning for the next time, out of all possible policy options. Nearly half of respondents (46%) stated that having a public plan for managing future pandemics would be very helpful in their recovery. This policy option was supported by all genders, ages and places of residence. It also benefited from the greatest socioeconomic support.
More than 30% of respondents rated four other possible policies as very useful. Two were related to mental health, one to individual finances, and one for support for community organizations.
Respondents who identified as female, non-binary, or younger than the rest of the population strongly supported access to face-to–face counselling with a psychiatrist and a doctor asking me questions about my mental health, as well as financial assistance for daily living expenses. They were also more likely than older men to have lost their jobs or been in financial difficulty as a result COVID-19 restrictions. Around one-third of people across all ages rated Additional Support for Community Organisation as very helpful.
Why Policymakers Must Listen
Our study provides insight for policymakers into what Australians think would help us adjust to the fact that COVID-19 will be a part of our lives in the future.
The United Nations already recommends that all countries prepare a response to the effects of the pandemic on mental health. This planning should be based on evidence and, as the OECD suggests, the community must be involve in the final details.
According to the survey, the most popular policy was to make a public pandemic management program available. This is especially notable as the Health Department made a key recommendation following the 2009 H1N1. Pandemic that a comprehensive plan be create for managing pandemics across Australia.
These essential components include effective communications, science-based decision making. And a flexible public healthcare response system that can respond quickly to emergencies.
This recommendation would have likely been implement if Australia had respond to the COVID-19. Pandemic sooner, more efficiently, and with less confusion.
This supports the argument of international disaster risk reduction specialists. That governments must shift their mindsets from if towards when threat future pandemics occur.
As a tired public struggles to make it through yet more lockdowns. Worrying daily updates, and other harrowing situations, they should know the lessons learned. Their mental health recovery will depend on their ability to reassure themselves that Australia is available for next time.