Wellbeing turning point reached in COVID-19 pandemic: ANU longitudinal study

Professor Nicholas Biddle says the rise in severe psychological distress in the latest survey results was
Professor Nicholas Biddle says the rise in severe psychological distress in the latest survey results was "worrying". Picture: Lannon Harley

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of Australians (54.6 per cent) think the worst is over but despite this, the rate of severe psychological distress is at an all-time high.

However, Australians are strongly supportive of how hospitals and the public service have managed the health crisis.

The findings from the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods' longitudinal study on economic and social wellbeing during the pandemic in Australia by Professor Nicholas Biddle also found more of us than at any point (40 per cent) think they are likely to get infected with the coronavirus in the next six months.

Unlike the beginning of the pandemic, when it was mostly women who feared infection, now men and women are equally concerned. Just six months ago, only 10 per cent of Australians feared infection.

"This is a huge jump and shows that even though the vast majority of adult Australians are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, many of us think it is inevitable we will get the disease at some point in time, especially as the country opens up more and more," Prof Biddle said.

Prof Biddle said October appeared to have been a bit of a transition point in Australia's recovery from the pandemic. The latest snapshot for October 2021, the ninth successive poll by the program involving almost 3500 adults, found Australians had diverged in views from Americans, 54 per cent of whom think the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

A dramatic rise in severe psychological distress, which the study has tracked since the pandemic began, was a "worrying" trend, Prof Biddle said.

Despite life satisfaction being on the up, in October 12.5 per cent of Australians said they were experiencing severe mental stress, compared with 10.6 per cent in April 2020.

The worsening in psychological distress was found for four age groups: 18 to 24; 25 to 34; 35 to 44; and 75 and older. These were significantly higher than pre-COVID levels.

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However, financial pressures were down. Study co-author, Prof Matthew Gray, said fewer Australians reported feeling they were facing major financial stress. From 21.4 per cent saying in October they could not get by on their current income, compared to 23.2 per cent in April 2021.

"We also found that household incomes continue to increase. While not quite at their pre-pandemic levels, it would appear that how much Australians are earning each week is less of a pressure than what it was in the middle of the pandemic and lockdowns," Prof Gray said.

Average household income was $1701 per week in the latest survey results.

The study has also tracked how Australia's pandemic management is viewed, with hospitals and the health system viewed as having done an excellent job by 41 per cent of Australians and a good job by 44 per cent. Just 4.4 per cent felt hospitals had done a poor job. The crisis management by the public service was seen as excellent or good by a combined 64.4 per cent, and 7.9 per cent a poor job.

The federal government had an overall good rating from 34.5 per cent, and an excellent rating from 5.4 per cent, with most giving the federal government a fair (34.7 per cent) or poor (25.4 per cent) rating.

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This story Wellbeing turning point reached in pandemic: study first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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