One in five Australians are reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress linked to the Covid 19 pandemic, with young people, women and those living with a disability the most affected by poor mental health.
A survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics into the household impact of Covid-19 also reveals that the recent Victorian outbreak led to a surge in psychological distress with almost a third of people in the state reporting feelings associated with depression and anxiety compared with 18% in the rest of Australia.
The findings come as the NSW and federal governments announced on Monday a joint $17m mental health package aimed at supporting people affected by the greater Sydney lockdown, which was extended by at least two weeks on Wednesday.
Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning
The latest survey, which tracked how the Covid 19 pandemic was affecting Australians in June before the Sydney lockdown, finds that about 28% of adults reported feeling “nervous” in the previous four weeks. This is the highest level in six months, but below the 45.7% reporting the same at the height of the extended Victorian lockdown in August last year.
The survey took place just as the most recent Victorian lockdown ended, and as New South Wales began implementing new Covid restriction measures in some areas, such as mandatory face mask requirements.
Almost one in three (30%) younger Australians aged between 18 and 34 experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in June 2021, compared with 18% of people aged 35 to 64 years and 10% of people older than 65.
Sydney Covid-19 lockdown extended for at least two weeks after 97 cases in NSW – video
Women were more likely to suffer feelings of depression and anxiety than men – 23% compared with 17% – and those people living with a disability were almost twice as likely to report high levels of distress than those without – 29% compared with 17%.
In announcing the mental health package on Tuesday, the government said the pandemic continued “to take a significant mental health toll on Australians, with increased stress, anxiety and depression in our communities”.
An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report has also found that young people have experienced greater mental health distress and job losses during Covid-19, with professor Pat McGorry saying the pandemic has compounded existing feelings of insecurity.
The ABS survey has also tracked how people feel about life “returning to normal”, with people becoming more pessimistic over the last six months while Australia’s troubled vaccine rollout has been in the spotlight.
One in four people (26%) now believe life in Australia will take more than a year to return to normal, compared with one in seven people (14%) in November 2020.
How to get the latest news from Guardian Australia
ShowPhotograph: Tim Robberts/Stone RF
Thank you for your feedback.
The research found 16% of people say life will never return to normal – a jump from the 11% of people who felt this way last November.
While the threat of a Covid outbreak has seen consistently high or very high levels of psychological distress, the survey also finds that prior to the most recent outbreaks there had been a decrease in “precautionary” behaviour such as hand sanitising, social distancing and disinfecting surfaces.
Keeping a physical distance from people had decreased to 63% from 88% cent in September, while disinfecting surfaces had decreased to 43% from 64%.