Policy report

COVID-19 and Australia's mental health: an overview of academic literature, policy documents, lived experience accounts and community reports

COVID-19 Mental health promotion Social connection Economic insecurity Evidence-based policy Social disadvantage Mental health Lived experience Australia

Compiled by Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank, this is the first Australian report to tie together multiple streams of knowledge to present an overview of the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and resultant policy measures. Using the best available knowledge, it aims to understand:

  • What are the main ways COVID-19 has impacted on Australia’s mental health?
  • Who has been the most impacted, and why?
  • What are the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that can inform a plan to protect Australia’s future mental health?

The evidence collated in this synthesis contains important depth and insights. It draws on a wide-ranging knowledge base including Australian and international published literature, government plans, budgets, policy reports, inquiries, grey literature and public commentary about the mental health and wellbeing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and voices from those who have generously shared their experiences around COVID-19 and mental health.

Based on the evidence presented the Think Tank identified several key insights, including:

  1. Australians are experiencing deteriorating mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic experience across communities in Australia has varied, there has been a population-level deterioration in mental health which echoes experiences overseas in countries with much higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates. For example, there is evidence that Australians are experiencing more anxiety and depression, and are engaging with suicide prevention and other mental health support helplines, more often than prior to the pandemic.
  2. The impact of the pandemic on mental health appears to have disproportionately burdened certain members of Australian society, including but not limited to young people; females; people living with a disability or existing mental health issue; culturally and linguistically diverse people; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; people on low incomes, people experiencing job loss or people living in poor-quality housing conditions.
  3. Government interventions during the pandemic have had mixed impacts on Australians’ wellbeing. Financial support and adaptations to the Medicare Benefits Scheme appear to have played an important role in protecting against the increased mental ill-health risks, including suicide risks. However, lack of systemic change to our already-stretched service system has meant that increased demand has further intensified barriers to high quality mental healthcare.
  4. The impact of social connection and disconnection on Australians’ mental health is becoming increasingly clear, as more research into the impact of the pandemic is being undertaken. The difficulties that some Australians have faced in maintaining their social connections during the pandemic appears to have led to significant mental health challenges.
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