Financial stress during lockdown has had a greater cost on people’s mental health than exposure to COVID-19 itself and cuts to the rate of JobKeeper and JobSeeker could create further damage for vulnerable individuals. This is according to new research from The Australian National University (ANU).
Researchers found that since Australia’s initial lockdown in March, clinical anxiety and depression had doubled and the spike was related to pandemic-induced financial and social problems.
The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of almost 1,300 Australian adults between 28 and 31 March 2020 when international borders had just closed and restrictions on restaurants, bars and social gatherings were new.
ANU researcher Dr Amy Dawel said they took a snapshot of Australia’s mental health and it was worrying.
“Financial, social and work disruptions caused by the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic have significantly impaired our nation’s mental health – doubling rates of anxiety and depression,” she said.
Dr Dawel said it was important to look at people’s mental health during the “acute phase” because fear of potential exposure to infection, loss of employment, and financial strain were all likely to increase psychological distress in the broader population.
“This distress may be further exacerbated in vulnerable individuals, including those who have experienced prior traumatic events, such as the bushfires,” she said.
The researchers suggest continued targeted financial support for those experiencing financial strain.
“We know from this study the changes to JobKeeper and JobSeeker could have a big impact on the nation’s mental health,” Dr Dawel said.
“We found that it was financial distress caused by job loss, rather than job loss itself, that impacted people’s mental health.
“The research showed governments could help support community mental health by providing quick and adequate financial support in times like these, to see people through periods of unemployment.
“These findings provide clear evidence that minimising social and financial disruption during the pandemic should be a central goal of public health policy,” Dr Dawel said.