Understanding the mental health impacts of COVID measures

A national study investigating the impacts of COVID-related physical distancing measures has found that quarantining in hotels is associated with more negative impacts than quarantining at home, particularly for those with a current mental health condition.

Researchers from The University of Western Australia’s School of Psychological Science collected data from approximately 2,500 Australians undergoing quarantine or social distancing from April to June this year to improve understanding of the mental health impacts of physical distancing.

“Wherever possible, options should be given to people with mental health vulnerabilities to quarantine at home.”

Dr Julie Ji
Lead researcher Dr Julie Ji said while full results from the COVID-19 CARE (Connected Activated Resilient & Engaged) Study were still being analysed, initial data from 132 people undergoing strict self-isolation/quarantine indicated that 100 per cent of respondents with pre-existing mental health conditions reported negative to very negative life impacts when quarantining in a facility, compared to 42 per cent of those isolating at home.

Julie Ji
In addition, for those with a pre-existing mental health condition, half (50 per cent) perceived their risk of becoming isolated or lonely as “high” to “very high” compared to 23 per cent of people with no previous mental health issues.

“We know that about one in five Australians are dealing with a mental health condition at any one time,” Dr Ji said. “In our sample, 16 per cent of respondents who underwent quarantine had a current mental health condition diagnosis, while a further 20 per cent had a past diagnosis. This means that, wherever possible, options should be given to people with mental health vulnerabilities to quarantine at home.”

Within the social distancing group of 2393 participants, young people and the unemployed reported the greatest negative life impacts as a result of COVID-19. For social distancers, even people with no history of mental health issues expressed high levels of worry and concern, with almost 40 per cent of respondents with no previous mental health diagnosis perceiving their risk of becoming isolated and lonely as “moderate” to “very high”.

Respondents were also surveyed about positive experiences in relation to COVID measures and nearly half reported up to four silverlinings. They included enjoying spending more time at home; more time on their own; reinvigorating old or developing new interests and hobbies; doing things they wanted to do but didn’t have time before; and learning and using new technologies to connect with others.

Initial findings from the study have been released in an info-graphic report that can be downloaded from the Care Study website.

The COVID-19 CARE Study is being carried out by Dr Julie Ji, Dr Julian Basanovic, and Professor Colin MacLeod at the School of Psychological Science, in collaboration with the Forrest Research Foundation and Minderoo Foundation.