‘Clear correlation’ between lockdown, mental health

Quiet Melbourne streets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The incidence of colds and flu has dropped significantly in 2020, while mental health concerns are on the rise, new data shows

Roy Morgan has interviewed more than 5,000 Australians as part of its Single Source survey, and confirmed what many already knew: 2020 has seen a drop in respiratory infections like colds and flu.

The largest decline from a year ago is for Ear, Nose and Throat conditions, experienced by 44.9% of Australians in the last year, down a large 14.4% points on a year ago.

The second largest decline has been for Allergies, Colds and Flu conditions, reported by 62.8% of Australians, down 9.8% points on a year ago.

According to the Immunisation Coalition, there have been 21,208 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia in 2020 – down from 313,061 in 2019.

Roy Morgan reports that the most widespread health conditions reported by Australians are Bones, Joints and Muscles issues, experienced by 64.8%, but this represents a drop of 4.2% points on a year ago.

Also reported by fewer people than a year ago are Digestive System illnesses, by 4.3% points to 46.2%, and Heart and Circulation conditions, down 4% points to 25%.

However, there are some health conditions that are higher than a year ago: led by Mental Health conditions, up 4.1% points to 44.1% of Australians, Behavioural issues, up 1.5% points to 8.7% and Brain and Nervous System conditions, up 1.4% points to 24.9%.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns enforced around Australia during 2020 have hugely impacted the way Australians conduct their daily lives, and these effects are playing out in the illnesses and medical conditions Australians report experiencing this year,” said Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine.

“The closure of the international border, and many internal state borders, has not only stopped the spread of COVID-19 but also seasonal infections such as the flu and colds and other ear, nose and throat infections – all of which are down significantly on a year ago.

“At the same time the societal lockdowns that forced some 4.3 million Australians to work from home (most of whom are still working from home even in November) and also closed down many sporting and other activities have had a demonstrable impact.

“These measures restricting the movement and interaction of Australians have meant far fewer Australians than a year ago report suffering from bones, joints and muscles issues such as fractures, knee pain, shoulder pain, tendonitis and tennis elbow that are often exacerbated, or even caused, by strenuous physical activities.

“However, there are some exceptions to this trend with illnesses and conditions that have seen an increase in prevalence from a year ago led by mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression and also behavioural illnesses including anorexia, bulimia and binge drinking and eating.

“The biggest increases in mental health issues have come in the states of Victoria and Tasmania while only in Western Australia has there been a drop from a year ago.

“Behavioural illnesses have increased in all mainland states with the largest increase in Victoria which remained in a 16-week lockdown until the last week of October.

“These results illustrate a clear correlation between lockdowns and isolation from friends and family and increases in mental health and behavioural issues that must be carefully considered when deciding on the correct response to future outbreaks of COVID-19 before a vaccine becomes widely available sometime next year.”

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