Australia

Mental health pressures ease as COVID restrictions come off

Strains on Australians' mental health started to ease last month as key sectors of the economy reopened but there are concerns they could rise again amid new coronavirus restrictions in parts of the country.

An ongoing survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed huge falls in key mental health stressors between mid-April, when much of the country was shut down, and mid-June, when restrictions were being eased.

Mental health stressors on Australians fell as restrictions on their movements eased between April and June, the ABS has found.

Mental health stressors on Australians fell as restrictions on their movements eased between April and June, the ABS has found.Credit:Peter Rae

In April, the bureau found 43 per cent of respondents had experienced one or more of a set of personal stress circumstances. By mid-June, this proportion had fallen to 24 per cent.

The biggest source of personal stress had been loneliness. In mid-April, one in five people reported being lonely but this had fallen to one in 11 by last month.

There were also falls in other major stress-inducing circumstances, including maintaining a healthy lifestyle (to 8 per cent from 19 per cent), managing health concerns (to 5 per cent from 10 per cent) and relationship difficulties (to 3 per cent from 7 per cent).

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Fewer people reported losing their jobs in the June survey, down to 3 per cent of households from 6 per cent. But there was no change in the proportion (6 per cent) reporting difficulties finding a job.

The only stress-related measure to show an increase was rental stress. Mortgage stress fell through the period.

That reduced stress translated into a fall in key indicators of mental health problems.

In April, 42 per cent of people felt restless or fidgety but this had fallen to 25 per cent by mid-June. There were also falls in the proportion of people feeling nervous or believing everything was an effort.

Across the sexes, the proportion of women feeling stressed dropped to 27 per cent from 48 per cent while among men it dropped to 21 per cent from 39 per cent.

ABS head of household surveys Michelle Marquardt said the survey showed Australians' mental health status was improving as restrictions eased.

But she cautioned that the survey was taken before the reintroduction of restrictions in Victoria, which is battling a jump in infections. Melburnians face a movement crackdown and the state's boundary with NSW has been closed.

"Now that some parts of the country are either having to reinstate some restrictions or put a pause on easing them, it will be important to understand what impact this is likely to have on people's mental health," she said.

As the economy has reopened, activities Australians took up to deal with the tedium of lockdowns are falling out of favour.

The proportion of people who said they were spending more time with their pets reached 53 per cent in April but is now at 35 per cent.

Forty-two per cent of people said they had spent extra time on chores such as housework or gardening in April but this is now at 25 per cent, while a similar drop has been recorded for time spent on hobbies including board games and reading.

Australians have also cut their personal screen time on phones, computers or TV, to 44 per cent from 58 per cent.

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