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Victorians are most worried about a third wave of the coronavirus and a further lockdown when thinking about next year, and more than half say the pandemic has affected their mental health.
An Ipsos poll commissioned by The Age and Nine News found COVID-19 had disproportionately affected young people’s mental health, with three-quarters of those aged 18 to 24 saying it had been impacted.
This decreased with age: 65 per cent of those aged 25-39 said the pandemic and lockdown had impacted on their mental health, 49 per cent of those aged 40-54, and 35 per cent of those aged 55 and over.
Second year uni student Max Hayward says the lockdown has had an impact on his mental wellbeing.Credit:Jason South
Max Hayward, a 22-year-old university student, was supposed to be on exchange in the US this semester. Instead, he found himself stuck in his room in a Melbourne residential college.
“I’m studying agricultural science and a big part of my education is being out in the field and on farms. It’s been really tough to replace that with just Zooms all the time. This year has basically been a write-off for me – it feels in a big way like I have lost my purpose.”
Mr Hayward said the lockdown had a negative effect on his mental health.
“I wouldn’t say I became depressed but I started spending a lot more time in bed. Although I am connected with friends online, I started withdrawing from them, not calling them as much, not messaging them as much and turning the camera off for Zooms.”
Mr Hayward said he had no idea whether he might be able to do internships or work over summer. “I am a very driven ambitious person who likes to have clear goals and plans for the future and when something like COVID comes along, I feel like I don’t have control,” he said.
Ian Hickie, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney, said young people had been the most affected by the pandemic across the globe because it disrupted their education, social life, life plans and life priorities.
This was exacerbated in Victoria which had experienced months of hard lockdown.
University of Sydney modelling projects a 30 per cent increase in suicide among young people aged 15-24 nationwide over the next five years and a 36.7 per cent increase in the same age group in Victoria.
Professor Hickie said the response to the pandemic had tended to focus on older people – who were more vulnerable to catching the virus – with young people often blamed for spreading it.
“However young people’s lives are really disrupted much more.”
Professor Hickie said older people already had established professions and assets, whereas younger people were building their careers and social identities.
“Forty-five per cent of jobs lost were among young people – a lot in industries that are not coming back in a hurry such as tourism, hospitality and performing arts,” Professor Hickie said.
He also said that some of the issues that many young people care about – such as climate change and the environment – had been sidelined by the immediate preoccupation with the health and economic crisis.
“The effects on young people’s lives will run over five to 10 years – it won’t end when the lockdown ends or when we appear to have the physical health threat under some control.”
The Ipsos poll, which was conducted online from October 19 to 21, interviewed 858 Victorians aged over 18. The poll data was weighted to represent the state demographic profile.
When asked to give thought to what next year might bring, 67 per cent were concerned about a third wave of the virus, 62 per cent were worried about the economic recession continuing and 49 per cent were distressed about not being able to travel interstate or go overseas.
Coalition voters were significantly more likely to be worried about the economic conditions than Labor voters (70 per cent and 55 per cent respectively).
Those living in Melbourne – where there were tougher restrictions and longer periods of lockdown – were more likely to say their mental health had been impacted than those from regional Victoria (54 per cent compared to 44 per cent).
A third of Victorians were worried about the ongoing impact of the pandemic on young people and their own mental health next year.
In August, both the state and federal governments announced substantial spending on mental health in Victoria.
The state pledged $60 million on bolstering community mental healthcare to reduce the pressure on hospitals and the Commonwealth designated $31.9 million to create 15 mental health clinics across Victoria.
Beyond Blue chief executive Georgie Harman called on the governments to work together to address gaps in the mental health system.
She said services needed to be provided outside hospital emergency departments for young people who were self-harming or in suicidal crisis.
Ms Harman also said it was important to help schools, universities and workplaces build mentally healthy environments and provide pathways to care and to invest in jobs and training for young people so they had a sense of purpose for the future.
“Less than 1 per cent of total investment is spent on prevention when many mental health conditions can be prevented,” Ms Harman said.
“Prevention is really about teaching people what good mental health looks like and early signs and symptoms of deterioration and what to do.”
If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue's coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.
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