Life satisfaction not back to pre-COVID levels
7 July 2022 at 12:02 am
New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows national life satisfaction levels are still not back to pre-COVID levels, as the mental health sector pushes for capacity and funding fixes.
The average life satisfaction in Australia has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to research released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
While average life satisfaction fell between January and April 2020, it had returned to pre-pandemic levels by January 2021. Later in 2021 it fell again and is yet to bounce back to where it sat before the onset of COVID-19.
ANUPoll surveys show that since April 2020, levels of psychological distress have tracked the pandemic, but the AIHW confirmed that fears of a spike in suicide and self-harm had not materialised.
“Despite a rise in the use of mental health services and an increase in psychological distress, COVID-19 has not been associated with a rise in suspected deaths by suicide,” AIHW deputy chief executive officer Matthew James said.
COVID illuminates pre-existing gaps
Since 2020, the pandemic continues to illuminate pre-existing gaps in Australia’s already overwhelmed mental health and suicide prevention systems, according to Dr Leanne Beagley, CEO of national peak body Mental Health Australia (MHA).
“What’s also concerning is that we know this has worsened the outcomes for the most vulnerable of our populations,” Dr Beagley told Pro Bono Australia, also highlighting the capacity issues being faced by the sector.
“Workforce was an issue prior to the pandemic and the increased demand for services has exacerbated this issue. There has been a lack of long-term mental health workforce planning that has resulted in increasing waiting lists and new service developments unable to find suitably trained staff. There is no short-term fix although better utilisation of allied health professions and accredited counsellors would be of significant benefit.”
In MHA’s briefing to the new Labor government, it outlined five priority areas in urgent need of action:
- Driving lived experience leadership to establish national, formal leadership structures.
- Demonstrating government leadership and accountability.
- Driving development of a community-focused mental health system.
- Demonstrating national leadership on the mental health workforce.
- Driving cross-portfolio work to address social determinants of mental health.
“However, this expectation for reform exists in an environment of international fiscal constraint resulting from the pandemic. Mental Health Australia recognises the incoming government also finds itself constrained by interjurisdictional funding already committed through the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement,” Dr Beagley said.
MHA is working with the Consumer Health Forum and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners towards a “well-funded national social prescribing scheme”.
“Loneliness is often understood as an individual issue but it’s something we also need to address as a community. Our connectedness greatly impacts how we perceive our quality of life and psychological distress,” Dr Beagley said.