Reported mental distress from COVID-19 varies across industries, survey finds

Many Australians are experiencing mental distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the proportion reported varying across industries, according to the latest survey by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne.

The proportion of respondents to the Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey who reported experiencing mental distress (feeling depressed or anxious all or most of the time) during the past week was 17 per cent. While there was only small variation between the States, there was a marked difference between sectors.

Experience of mental distress was reported by 37 per cent of employees in information media and telecommunications compared to six per cent in administrative and related support services. The proportion in the industry group – accommodation, food & recreation services – was the same as the national average of 17 per cent.

The proportion of all survey respondents who reported feeling financially stressed (in terms of paying for essential goods and services) remained at around 30 per cent. Rates of high mental distress were greater in unemployed Australians (29 per cent) than those who were employed (21 per cent) or not participating in the workforce.

Melbourne Institute Professorial Fellow Professor Peter Butterworth said:The increase in unemployment and financial stress associated with the COVID-19 crisis has led to an increase in the number of Australians experiencing mental distress. However, it could have been worse.  The measures introduced by the Australian Government to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis are likely to have lessened the mental health costs of the crisis.

“By breaking the nexus between the economic shock and unemployment for many employees, these measures also reduce some of the adverse mental health consequences that would otherwise be expected.

“By providing a pathway back to work when the crisis abates, these measures may also help many to avoid the long-term adverse psychological effects of job loss and maintain the latent benefits that work brings such as a sense of purpose and social connection.”

A further report on how to protect mental health through the COVID-19 crisis has also been published this week by the Melbourne Institute.

The latest survey results also show mixed responses to the Government’s COVIDSafe contact tracing app. More than 40 per cent of Australians interviewed say that they are likely to download, or have already downloaded, the COVIDSafe app. However, the proportion who said they are unlikely to download is similarly high, ranging from 35 per cent in Queensland to 42 per cent in New South Wales.

Melbourne Institute lead researcher Professor Guay Lim said: “This week’s survey brings good news with more than 40 per cent of Australians interviewed indicating that they are likely to download, or have already downloaded, the COVIDSafe app.

“However, before we rush into easing restrictions and risk another wave of coronavirus infections, it might be prudent to consider that almost 40 per cent of Australians are also unlikely to download the COVIDSafe app, and that the practice of social distancing has helped to flatten the coronavirus curve so far.”

Across the states, satisfaction with government economic policies to support jobs and keep people at work remained at 65 per cent. There was a noticeable difference in the perception of the duration of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economic activity, with respondents in New South Wales and Victoria more optimistic that the duration of the impact will be shorter compared to respondents in South Australia and Western Australia.

The survey results are from 27-30 April 2020. Find the full report on the Melbourne Institute’s website.

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