New evidence out of Australia shows elevated psychological distress, including depression and anxiety symptoms occurred during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak. The new study was published July 28, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, by Jill Newby and colleagues of the University of New South Wales at the Black Dog Institute, Sydney, Australia.
New Study Shows Higher Occurrences of Acute Depression & Anxiety During COVID-19 Peak
The long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still largely unknown. Research into previous pandemics has shown higher rates of illness fears, psychological distress, insomnia and other mental health problems in people with pre-existing mental illness, front-line health care workers, and survivors of the virus.
Utilizing an online survey, researchers examined mental health responses to the pandemic from 5,070 Australian adults. The surveys were conducted March 27th through April 7th, which is considered to be the peak of the outbreak in Australia. The online questionnaire asked respondents about their fears, behavioral responses to COVID-19, psychological distress, alcohol use, and physical activity. A similar survey had been conducted among 2,174 Australians in early March, when cases in the country were still relatively low.
It's important to note that the population included in the survey was not representative of the overall population. Of those surveyed 70% had pre-existing mental health diagnoses, 86% were female, and 75% were Caucasian. Although few participants had contracted COVID-19 (0.15%), more than one-quarter (25.9%) were very or extremely worried about contracting the virus and more than half (52.7%) were very or extremely worried about their family and friends. While the questionnaires could not be used to make any diagnoses, most participants reported that their mental health had worsened during the outbreak, with 55% saying it had worsened a little and 23% saying it had worsened a lot. Around half of all participants reported moderate to extreme loneliness and worry about their financial situation. Between 20.3 and 24.1% of people surveyed had been experiencing severe or extremely severe levels of depression, anxiety and stress over the week preceding their survey, and another 18 to 22% had moderate symptoms.
Newby says: "We wanted to provide a snapshot of the mental health of the general community during the COVID-19 outbreak and look into the impact of the enforcement of social distancing laws, in Australia." She adds, "We don't know what the long-term impacts of the pandemic will be, but these figures certainly show a negative impact on mental health in the short-term."
At the time of publication, those surveyed were not asked about their access to behavioral healthcare or if they were seeking treatment. However, Newby did look into the data for InSync saying, "I believe they’re surveying around 1000 people every few weeks, and the latest one showed only 10% of people who had elevated stress/depression/anxiety had sought help."
Our thanks to Jill Newby and her work on this. You can read the full report in the open access peer reviewed journal, Plos One.
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