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More than three quarters of people say their mental health has worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19, a new study has revealed.

The study – published in PLOS One today – was led by UNSW Associate Professor Jill Newby, who’s based at the Black Dog Institute. 

The researchers surveyed more than 5,000 people between 27 March and 7 April 2020 to explore people’s anxiety levels and how they were coping over the outbreak. 

78% of respondents reported their mental health had worsened since the outbreak, raising concerns over the aftermath of the pandemic. A quarter of people (25.9 per cent) said they were very concerned about getting sick themselves, and half the respondents (52.7 per cent) were very concerned about their loved ones contracting COVID-19. 

More than three quarters of all those who responded (80 per cent) also said they felt very uncertain about the future.

“We wanted to provide a snapshot of the mental health of the general community during the COVID-19 outbreak and look into the impact of the enforcement of social distancing laws in Australia,” says Associate Professor Jill Newby.

“High quality research into the mental health impacts of COVID-19 is urgently needed to inform evidence-based policy decisions, prevention efforts and treatment programs. It can assist community support systems, particularly for those who are most vulnerable and those who are at risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes during and after this pandemic.” 

More than half of those asked reported feeling lonely, and more than half were really worried about their financial situation.

Over two thirds of those who took part in the survey had prior history of mental health diagnoses/problems and results showed they had significantly higher fears of COVID-19, depression, anxiety, stress, health anxiety and fears of contamination than those without prior mental health issues.

“Given that loneliness, social isolation, and financial stress are significant risk factors for poor mental and physical health, these findings really are concerning,” says A/Prof. Newby.

“We don’t know what the outcome of this pandemic will be on people’s mental health, but these results certainly give us an idea.”

Another concern raised by the responses was the number of people reporting excessive alcohol consumption as a way of dealing with their anxiety.

While 48.6 per cent of those with prior history of mental health diagnoses/problems reported excessive drinking, 54.6 per cent of people without prior mental health issues had also been drinking to excess.