A study undertaken during lockdown has provided a glimpse into New Zealand’s mental health, concluding that it reduced the overall wellbeing of young adults.
According to a survey of 2000 Kiwis taken in April the University of Otago researchers found that almost 40 percent of respondents reported low wellbeing, and about a third reported moderate-to-high distress.
The research paper, ‘Psychological distress, anxiety, family violence, suicidality, and wellbeing in New Zealand during the COVID-19 lockdown: a cross-sectional study’ is published in the international journal, PLOS ONE.
The results of the survey present an interesting snapshot of people’s self-reported psychological distress, anxiety and suicidality captured at the ‘peak’ of the early lockdown period, said Associate Professor Janet Fanslow, from the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland.
But Dr Susanna Every-Palmer from the Department of Psychological Medicine at Otago University, said not all the consequences of the lockdown were negative.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said they enjoyed the ‘silver linings’, including working from home, spending more time with family, and living in a quieter, less polluted environment.
“People reported taking the opportunity to pause, reflect, consider priorities, recreate healthy habits, and they appreciated the environmental benefits brought by reduced travel.
“Governments should make providing mental health support a similar priority to other health measures, such as contact tracing, provision of personal protective equipment and procurement of ventilators.”
Young people more affected
Psychological distress was higher in young people, with 47.3 percent of 18 – 24 year olds reporting moderate to severe levels of distress.
More people reported feeling suicidal and there were higher rates of family violence during lockdown too.
There was no difference by ethnicity, 6.1 percent reported suicidal ideation, with 2.1 percent making active plans, and the same proportion reported having made a suicide attempt. Again, this was more common among young people.
About a third of New Zealanders reported significant distress, and rates in younger people (18-34 years) were higher than for older people.
Interestingly, rates of distress among women and men were quite similar, which is unusual as often women report higher levels of distress.
Alcohol intake rises
One in five Kiwis increased their usual drinking habits over lockdown.
“Implications of these findings are threefold,” University of Auckland’s Janet Fanslow said.
Mental health and family violence response systems need to be resourced to respond to increased need during times of lockdown, she said.
Covid-19 response and post-crisis recovery plans need to promote women’s economic empowerment and address gender inequalities in employment and social protection systems.
There needed to be systemic change to address the underlying causes of mental health issues and family violence whether the country is in lockdown or not, Fanslow said. This would require investment in and implementation of evidence-based prevention strategies to prevent family violence.
“Although the study couldn’t tell us exactly what about the lockdown people found stressful, it is likely that a combination of health anxiety and worry about the potential economic consequences of Covid-19 played a role,” clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland said.
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