Mental health and the COVID-19 crisis Q&A

1. Do we know anything about impacts on distress in children?
Thanks for the question. The Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey was limited to Australian adults, so we have no information related to children. (During the seminar, Vikki made some comments related to this topic based on research conducted by Headspace.)

2. Peter, how would you compare: (a) the stress of actually being unemployed and (b) the stress of WORRYING about becoming unemployed, yet still being employed. Something like: our greatest fear is, fear itself.
Yes, I think (b) may be having a major effect. If we consider the comparison of HILDA (2017) and Taking the Pulse of the Nation (COVID) data, we saw that both unemployed and employed groups showed an increase in distress, but that the increase was proportionally greater for the employed group. Some of the concerns and stressors associated with being unemployed are consistent across the two time points, whereas the greater increase in distress among those who are employed may well reflect this new concern about security and future of work. For example, later waves of the survey asked whether employed respondents were receiving the JobKeeper payment or not (again, time constraints precluded discussion of this). We found that those on JobKeeper reported significantly higher levels of distress (more consistent with those who were unemployed) than employed respondents not receiving JobKeeper.  This JobKeeper group is likely to be more concerned about their future and the findings may be consistent with your comment.  

3. Did you consider JobKeeper as a search term to follow? Now or in the future?
Yes, we did look at Jobkeeper as well (only so much can fit in 20+/ish minutes!). The association was much weaker than the terms presented.  The peak for “jobKeeper” searches was about a month later than “JobSeeker” and “covid”. So did not match the overall population profile of distress. However it would be interesting to consider particular subpopulations (if we can identify them in the data) for whom this may have been a more salient topic.  

4. Can you separate between economic effects vs effects on isolation and connectedness? The employed are typically most connected, so maybe the large difference between Taking the Pulse of the Nation (2020) and HILDA (2017) for this group is mainly due to effects on feelings of isolation?
Yes, this is also a possible explanation of the differences. Potentially new items included in recent waves of the survey may help to test this.  

5. So you would expect those with financial distress, to be distressed?
Yes, I would expect that those experiencing financial stress to be much more likely to experience distress. We find that in many other datasets.

6. Is the data available to researchers for analysis?
The Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey is managed by the Melbourne Institute and currently being used by Melbourne Institute staff in a number of projects. If you are interested in opportunities to collaborate or access the data, please contact Prof Guay Lim to discuss.

7. Has distress been assessed in terms of family status?
We haven’t looked at this in the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey. As Abigail noted during the session, items assessing family circumstances have been added to the survey, and this type of analysis would be important to consider in future analysis.

8. Given differences in responses to and experiences of the pandemic at the state level, is there information on patterns of distress in each state/territory?
Thanks for the question. Yes, this is also on the agenda for future research. There is data identifying respondents’ state (and other area measures). We could expect to see the profile of distress over time will not be uniform but reflect local characteristics. A major limitation is the loss of sample for the subpopulation analysis, meaning it may not be possible to analyse at a weekly level.  But it's certainly worth further consideration.

9. Should the government response to the pandemic, which prioritises stopping the spread of the virus, have been any different given adverse effects on mental health?
I (personally) don’t think so. I would be more focused on responses that address and protect mental health in the context of the response to the virus. The boosts to online and telephone mental health support services were important (responding to, and supporting a dramatic increase in use), as was the introduction of mental health tele-servicing (which accounted for a significant proportion of MBS mental health service delivery). I’m interested in the extent to which the economic/employment responses have also protected mental health and whether addressing gaps in the targeting of these responses, or differences in the design of policies, could have resulted in a better outcome for some.

10. Is it possible that the relationship between financial distress and mental distress shows the actual timing of the payment receipts from JobSeeker? i.e. it takes a month to get processed and receive the money.
Thanks for your suggestion.  This is indeed a possibility that I hadn’t considered. I will need to think more about how this can be examined. Perhaps considering when applications for payments peaked?  

11. Is there a relationship between mental stress and the reported state covid19 cases?
Great idea. This is the next planned analysis (potentially including this in a future Melbourne Institute Research Insight report).

12. Is there a relationship to an expectation that the payments will end?
We haven’t considered this. As the survey continues, we could expect that distress levels would increase as the payment end date draws closer.