Mental health impact of COVID-19

The potential for COVID-19 to impact mental health and wellbeing was recognised early in the pandemic (WHO 2020). In addition to concerns around contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself, some of the measures necessary to contain its spread were also expected to negatively impact mental health (NMHC 2020). Widespread restrictions of movement, social distancing measures, physical isolation and lockdowns were widely implemented from March 2020. The sudden loss of employment and social interaction, with added stressors of moving to remote work or schooling, and more recently, impacts of sudden, localised lockdowns to prevent further outbreaks have negatively impacted the mental health of many Australians. There have been reports of stress, confusion, and anger due to the pandemic (Brooks et al. 2020) and, while many people may not experience any long-term issues, the pandemic has the potential to contribute to or exacerbate mental illness.

Data downloads:

Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 (1.2MB PDF)

This section of Mental Health Services in Australia (MHSiA) will be updated quarterly during the pandemic and was last updated in March 2022. It presents information reported via the mental health COVID-19 dashboards and focuses on activity during the 4-week period from 13 December 2021 to 9 January 2022. 

  • ‘The same period 1 year ago’ refers to the period 14 December 2020 to 10 January 2021.
  • ‘The same period 2 years ago’ refers to the period 16 December 2019 to 12 January 2020, except where otherwise noted.

Key points

  • Between 16 March 2020 and 9 January 2022, almost 25 million MBS-subsidised mental health-related services were processed.
  • MBS-subsidised mental health services delivered via telephone or videoconference peaked during April 2020 when about half of MBS mental health services were delivered via telehealth. In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, 30.2% of MBS mental health services were delivered via telehealth.
  • The volume of mental health-related PBS prescriptions dispensed spiked in March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions were first introduced, followed by a dip in April 2020. From mid-May 2020 to mid-November 2021, weekly volume tracked above the same week one year prior. These patterns were observed across all jurisdictions.
  • In the four weeks to 9 January 2022:
    • Lifeline received 89,679 calls, up 6.5% and 16.0% from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago respectively;
    • Kids Helpline received 22,935 answerable contact attempts, up 1.8% and 0.4% from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago respectively;
    • Beyond Blue received 21,425 contacts, down 5.7% and up 26.7% from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago respectively.

Mental Health Service Activity in Australia

Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government introduced a wide range of additional services to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to support provision of health care via telehealth (telephone and videoconference). This was intended to help reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and provide protection for both patients and health care providers by reducing the need for face-to-face contact. These MBS items include mental health services provided by GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other allied health workers.

Services under the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners through the MBS initiative (Better Access) are available for people with a clinically diagnosed mental disorder to receive up to 10 individual and 10 group mental health services per calendar year (DoH 2021a). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has invested $195.1 million (combined total: DoH 2020a, DoH 2020b, DoH 2021b) to double the number of Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions to 20 per year until 31 December 2022, and to make these available to residents of aged care facilities for the first time. Future arrangements under the initiative, including the number of sessions, will be guided by the outcomes of the Better Access evaluation currently underway. The evaluation is due for completion in 2022.

Figure COVID.1: Number of MBS mental health services, by week of processing, January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.1: Line chart showing the total number of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) mental health services processed each week nationally from January 2020 to January 2022. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of MBS mental health services increased from 238,044 in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to 297,631 in the week beginning 7 December 2020 with a low of 63,115 services in the week beginning 28 December. The number of services increased from another low of 174,933 in the week beginning 4 January 2021 to 299,330 in the week beginning 22 March 2021, and then peaked at 319,648 and 317,080 in the weeks beginning 16 August 2021 and 6 September 2021, respectively. The drops in March/April are consistent with previous years due to the Easter holidays. In the week beginning 3 January 2022 there were 130,096 services processed.
Figure COVID.1.1: Line chart showing the proportion (per cent) of processed Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) services delivered by telehealth each week nationally from January 2020 to January 2022. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth rapidly increased from 1.1% in the week beginning 9 March 2020 to a record high of 50.5% in the week beginning 13 April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic. Following this, the proportion has gradually declined to 18.0% in the week beginning 17 May 2021. Since mid-August 2021, the proportion of services delivered via telehealth weekly has consistently exceeded the same period in 2020, with the second highest of 37.4% on 30 August 2021 followed by the highest peak of 38.0% on 6 September 2021, a second lower peak of 37.3% occurred in the week beginning 4 October 2021. In the week beginning 3 January 2022, 32.6% of services were delivered via telehealth.

Notes:
Figure COVID.1:
1. The drop in service numbers in late December 2021 – early January 2022 is similar to that observed for the same time period in previous years.
2. Data points represent week commencing date.

Figure COVID.1.1:
1. Data points represent week commencing date.
Source: Medicare Benefits Schedule data.

The proportion of services delivered via telehealth peaked during April 2020 (Figure COVID.1.1) when about half were provided remotely. There was an uptrend in the use of telehealth services from late May 2021 to early October 2021 corresponding with lockdowns in response to COVID-19 outbreaks. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in 2021 peaked in the week commencing 6 September 2021, with 38.0% of MBS services delivered via telehealth (Figure COVID.1.1). In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, 30.2% of MBS mental health services were delivered via telehealth. More information can be found in the Mental Health Service Activity in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland section of this report.

A spike in PBS prescriptions, including all mental health-related prescriptions, was observed in March 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown in 2020. This represented an 18.6% increase in the number of mental health-related prescriptions dispensed in the 4 weeks to 29 March 2020 compared to the four weeks to 31 March 2019. In the four weeks to 28 November 2021, there was a 3.9% increase in mental health-related prescriptions dispensed under the PBS compared to the 4 weeks to 29 November 2020 (Figure COVID.2). Prescriptions for antidepressants increased by 5.0% between these periods. PBS data reported in fortnightly dashboards lag other sources by six weeks to reduce the effect of administrative arrangements including late claims, updates to claims and cancellations.

Figure COVID.2: Number of PBS mental health-related prescriptions dispensed, by week, January 2019 – November 2021

Figure COVID.2:Line chart showing the number of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) mental health-related prescriptions dispensed by week from January 2019 to November 2021. The number of prescriptions dispensed increased from 749,191 in the week beginning 6 January 2020 to a sharp peak of 1,013,904 in the week beginning 16 March 2020. A low occurred in the week beginning 6 April 2020 with 661,428 prescriptions dispensed, gradually increasing to a second peak of 903,440 in the week beginning 14 December 2020. The number of prescriptions dispensed throughout 2020 remained slightly higher than in 2019. The number of prescriptions dispensed in 2021 follows a similar pattern to 2019 but has been consistently higher than 2020 and 2019 excluding the March 2020 peak. In the week beginning 22 November 2021 there were 866,258 prescriptions dispensed.

Notes:
1. Mental health-related prescriptions include medications classified as antidepressants (N06A); antipsychotics (N05A); anxiolytics (N05B); hypnotics and sedatives (N05C); and psychostimulants, agents used for ADHD and nootropics (N06B).

2. Data include PBS subsidised (above-co-payment) and under-co-payment prescriptions.

3. Data points represent week commencing date.

Source: Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data maintained by the Department of Health and sourced from Services Australia.

National use of crisis and support organisations and online mental health information services

There are a range of crisis, support, and information services available to support Australians experiencing mental health issues, such as Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Beyond Blue, and ReachOut. Head to Health is a website created by the Australian Government that brings together apps, online programs, online forums, phone services, and digital information resources to help people find the digital mental health services most suited to their needs. The Australian Government also funded Beyond Blue to create a dedicated Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service to provide free 24/7 mental health support, particularly for people not already connected to the mental health system. Other support organisations have incorporated pandemic support into their day-to-day services.

These crisis support services reported increased demand for their services in March 2020 and have since reported fluctuations in activity during the pandemic. Total demand for crisis and support organisations trended upward from June 2021 to early September 2021, with Lifeline reaching record call demand in September 2021 (Figure COVID.3). Direct comparisons between organisations are not meaningful due to differences in populations being serviced, service models, funding envelopes, workforce availability and information systems.

Figure COVID.3: Crisis and support organisation contacts, by week, January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.3: Line chart showing the number of contacts made to Lifeline (calls offered), Kids Helpline (answerable calls, webchats, and emails) and Beyond Blue (calls offered, webchats, and emails) by week from January 2020 to January 2022. The number of calls to Lifeline increased from a low of 18,993 in the week beginning 3 February 2020 to a peak of 22,064 in the week beginning 28 December 2020. Following subsequent fluctuations, calls to Lifeline reached a record high 24,723 in the week beginning 6 September 2021. Kids Helpline contacts increased from a low of 6,142 in the week beginning 6 January 2020 to a steep peak of 9,435 in the week beginning 30 March 2020, with a gradual decline to 5,323 in the week beginning 21 December 2020 followed by a gradual increase to 8,799 contacts in the week beginning 6 September 2021. Contacts then declined to 6,288 in the week commencing 3 January 2022. Contacts to Beyond Blue (including the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service) gradually increased from a low of 4,202 in the week beginning 20 January 2020 to a peak of 7,709 in the week beginning 3 August 2020, with fluctuations to 5,804 contacts in the week beginning 3 January 2022.
Figure COVID.3.1: Table showing the total number of contacts and number of answered contacts for the four weeks from 13 December 2021 to 9 January 2022 and % changes from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively. In the four weeks to 9 January 2022 there were: 89,679 calls offered to Lifeline (a 6% and 16% increase from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively); 22,935 contacts to Kids Helpline (a 2% increase and 0% change); and 21,425 contacts to Beyond Blue (a 6% decrease and a 27% increase). In the same four weeks to 9 January 2022: 77,156 calls were answered by Lifeline (a 2% and 22% increase from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively); 11,172 contacts were answered by Kids Helpline (a 16% and 2% decrease); and 17,905 contacts were answered by Beyond Blue (a 15% decrease and a 13% increase).

Notes:
Figure COVID.3:
1. Direct comparisons between organisations are not meaningful due to differences in populations being serviced, service models, funding envelopes, workforce availability and information systems.
2. Comparisons with previous years should be made with caution as historical trends may be impacted by a range of events, including planned awareness raising campaigns.
3. Kids Helpline contacts presented in this graph exclude phone contact attempts abandoned during the privacy message.
4. Data points represent week commencing date.

Figure COVID.3.1:
1. Direct comparisons between organisations are not meaningful due to differences in populations being serviced, service models, funding envelopes, workforce availability and information systems.
2. Comparisons with previous years should be made with caution as historical trends may be impacted by a range of events, including planned awareness raising campaigns.
3. Kids Helpline contacts exclude phone contact attempts abandoned during the privacy message.
4. The period in 2020 refers to dates 24 Aug – 20 Sep 2020, and the period in 2019 refers to 26 Aug – 22 Sep 2019.
Sources: Lifeline; Kids Helpline; Beyond Blue.

Recent activity

In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, crisis organisation activity varied with different overall trends in demand by organisation in comparison to previous years. Lifeline and Kids Helpline saw demand that exceeded the same period 1 year ago. While Lifeline demand exceeded the same period 2 years ago, Kids Helpline saw almost no change in demand from the same period 2 years ago. Beyond Blue saw decreased demand from the same period 1 year ago, but demand exceeded the same period 2 years ago.

The ReachOut and Head to Health websites saw increased activity during the first wave of the pandemic, peaking in March 2020 amid nationwide lockdown restrictions, with subsequent fluctuations. From early July 2021 to early October 2021, there has been a gradual uptrend in Head to Health activity followed by a gradual down trend to January 2022, which may be due to the Christmas period. ReachOut saw an increase in mid-July 2021 from a seasonal low in late June 2021 and early July 2021, followed by a gradual decrease from early October 2021 to January 2022. In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, which may be due to the Christmas period:

  • ReachOut reported an average of 4,654 website users per day, a decrease of 30.2% and 13.6% compared to the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively.
  • Head to Health received an average of 966 users per day, a decrease of 76.0% and an increase of 60.8% compared to the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively (Figure COVID.4).

Figure COVID.4: Website users per day (weekly average), January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.4: Line chart showing the average number of daily website users by week for ReachOut and Head to Health from January 2020 to January 2022. The average number of daily ReachOut users by week increased from a low of 6,503 in the week beginning 6 January 2020 to a peak of 13,380 in the week beginning 30 March 2020. The average number of daily ReachOut users since fluctuated and showed a similar pattern in 2021 to 2020 but at slightly lower levels. There was an average of 6,105 daily users in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The average number of daily Head to Health users per week increased from a low of 767 in the week beginning 6 January 2020 to a steep peak of 9,309 in the week beginning 23 March 2020. After a decline in subsequent months, the average number of daily Head to Health users further declined from another peak of 5,386 average daily users in the week beginning 15 February 2021 to 1,048 in the week beginning 3 January 2022.

 

Note:
1. Data points represent week commencing date.
2. Spike in March 2020 for Head to Health likely relates to the release of COVID-19 page on 20 March 2020 and a direct link from the Department of Health website.
3. Since July 2021, several factors have contributed to a decrease in ReachOut website users, including seasonal decreases during school holiday periods, Google search algorithm changes, reductions in external marketing support and funding from Google, Facebook, NSW, and Beyond Blue, and an administrative error which resulted in some under-reporting. ReachOut is working to address these factors.
Sources: Head to Health; ReachOut.

Mental Health Service Activity in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland

A key observation during the pandemic has been the pattern of differential use of mental health-related services by state and territory residents. As at June 2021, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland comprised 77.9% of Australia’s population. However, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland combined reported 93.1% of Australia’s COVID-19 cases to 9 January 2022 (DoH 2022b). The jurisdictional version of the dashboard has focused on the mental health service use by residents of these three states.

Chronology of COVID-19 Pandemic Restrictions

MBS mental health service activity in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland

In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, mental health-related MBS service use decreased in New South Wales (8.6%), Victoria (9.3%), and Queensland (9.1%), from the same time 1 year ago (Figure COVID.5). During this period, Victorians had the highest rate of MBS service use (2,908 services per 100,000 population), which has been consistent throughout the pandemic and with pre-pandemic service use trends. In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, people in New South Wales (2,370 services per 100,000 population) and Queensland (2,436 services per 100,000) had higher rates of MBS service use compared to the rest of Australia (2,291 services per 100,000 population, excluding New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland) (Figure COVID.5).

These states have seen differing demand for MBS services throughout the pandemic. The four-week period with the highest mental health-related MBS service use during the pandemic to 19 September 2021 for each state was the four weeks to 12 September 2021 with 4,548 services per 100,000 population in New South Wales, 5,671 in Victoria, and 4,873 in Queensland.

Figure COVID.5: MBS mental health services per 100,000 population, by jurisdiction, week of processing, January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.5: Line chart showing the rate per 100,000 population of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) mental health services processed each week for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the rest of the country (i.e., all states and territories excluding New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and excluding missing and unknown jurisdiction) from January 2020 to January 2022. The rate of services processed in New South Wales increased from a low of 742 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to a peak of 1,125 in the week beginning 14 December 2020 before a sharp dip to 243 two weeks later in the week beginning 28 December 2020. 2021 showed a similar pattern to 2020. The rate of services in New South Wales saw a low of 452 in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of mental health MBS services processed in Victoria per 100,000 population gradually increased from 859 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to peak at 1,399 in the week beginning 12 October 2020, with a sharp dip to 310 in the week beginning 28 December 2020. 2021 showed a similar pattern to 2020. The rate of services in Victoria saw a low of 559 in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of services per 100,000 population processed in Queensland follows a similar pattern to New South Wales and Victoria, increasing from 807 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to a peak at 1,223 in the week beginning 23 November 2020 to a sharp dip of 228 in the week beginning 28 December 2020. 2021 showed a similar pattern to 2020 and had a peak of 1,278 in the week beginning 16 August 2021. The rate of services in Queensland saw a low of 512 in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of services processed in the rest of the country also follows a similar pattern, increasing from 674 in the week beginning 6 April 2020 to peak at 1,025 in the week beginning 7 December 2020 to a sharp dip of 205 in the week beginning 28 December 2020. 2021 showed a similar pattern to 2020 and had a peak of 1,095 in the week beginning 16 August 2021. The rate of services in the rest of the country saw a low of 514 in the week beginning 3 January 2022. A decline in services occurred during the Christmas/New Year period, which is consistent with seasonal patterns observed in previous years. Variability can be due to the administrative arrangements associated with the processing of claims as well as practitioner/practice leave arrangements associated with public holidays.

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Notes:
1. Rest of country refers to MBS services identified as having been delivered for people usually residing in WA, SA, Tas, ACT and NT.
2. Rates are based on estimated resident populations as of 30 June 2019 for 2020 and 30 June 2020 for 2021 and 30 June 2021 for 2022.
3. Data points represent week commencing date.
Source: Medicare Benefits Schedule data.

MBS mental health telehealth services in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland

In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, more than one third (36.3%) of services in New South Wales were delivered via telehealth, compared to 40.9% in Victoria, 18.7% in Queensland, and 16.3% in the rest of Australia (Figure COVID.6).

Early in the pandemic there was a steep increase nationally in the proportion of mental health-related MBS services delivered via telehealth between March and April 2020 (corresponding with the introduction of a range of temporary telehealth items to the MBS), followed by a gradual decline through May and June 2021 for all states and territories except Victoria.

Figure COVID.6: Proportion (per cent) of MBS mental health services delivered via telehealth, by jurisdiction, week of processing, March 2019 – January 2022

COVID.6: Line chart showing the per cent of processed Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) mental health services delivered via telehealth each week for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the rest of the country (i.e., all states and territories excluding New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and excluding missing and unknown jurisdictions) from March 2020 to January 2022. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in New South Wales increased from 3.1% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a 2020 peak of 48.8% in the week beginning 13 April 2020, with a decline to 16.0% in the week beginning 24 May 2021. This low was followed by a sharp rise between the weeks of 14 June 2021 and 30 August 2021 with a sustained 2021 peak of 54.0% for two weeks to week of 6 September 2021 with subsequent fluctuations to 39.2% in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in Victoria increased from 2.5% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak of 55.5% in the week beginning 27 April 2020, and following a dip in June, increased to the highest 2020 peak at 63.8% in the week beginning 31 August 2020, with subsequent fluctuations to 43.2% in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in Queensland increased from 3.6% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak of 48.0% in the week beginning 13 April 2020, with a decline to 24.9% in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The proportion of services delivered via telehealth in the rest of the country follows a similar pattern to Queensland, increasing from 2.4% in the week beginning 16 March 2020 to a peak at 49.4% in the week beginning 13 April 2020 and then gradually decreasing to 17.8% in the week beginning 3 January 2022.

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Notes:
1. Rest of country refers to MBS services identified as having been delivered for people usually residing in WA, SA, Tas, ACT and NT.
2. Data points represent week commencing date.
Source: Medicare Benefits Schedule data.

Crisis and support organisation activity in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland

For New South Wales and Victoria, from the early stages of the pandemic in Australia to March 2021, contacts per 100,000 population answered by Lifeline, Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue, tended to be higher than the same period one-year prior until around April 2021. After that, as the comparison periods also occurred during the pandemic, year-on-year comparisons tend to differ between jurisdictions and organisations, and over time (Figure COVID.7).

Figure COVID.7: Crisis and support organisation answered contacts per 100,000 population, by jurisdiction, week, January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.7: Grid of twelve line charts showing the rate per 100,000 population of crisis and support organisation answered contacts each week, for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the rest of the country (i.e., all states excluding New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and excluding missing and unknown jurisdiction) from January 2020 to January 2022. The rate of answered contacts for 2020 and 2021 follow similar trajectories in most states and jurisdictions. Some notable exceptions. Lifeline in NSW trended significantly higher in 2021 between August and October then the same period in 2020 with a peak of 98 per 100,000 in the week of 30 August 2021compared to 74 per 100,000 in week of 31 August 2020. A similar peak occurred for Lifeline in the ‘Rest of Country’ data. Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue saw decreased numbers in the latter half of 2021 compared to 2020 with lows of 9 and 13 respectively.
Figure COVID.7.1: Table showing mental health support organisation answered contacts in the four weeks to 9 January 2022 and per cent changes from same periods 1 and 2 years ago for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the rest of the country (excluding missing and unknown jurisdiction). In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, Lifeline answered 26,735 calls from New South Wales (representing a 0% change and a 21% increase from the same periods 1 and 2 years ago, respectively), 20,975 calls from Victoria (increases of 4% and of 27%), 14,835 calls from Queensland (increases of 8% and 11%), and 14,610 calls from the rest of the country (decrease of 5% for same period 1 year ago and increase of 27% for same period 2 years ago). In the four weeks to 9 January 2022, Kids Helpline answered 3,343 contacts from New South Wales, 2,597 contacts from Victoria, 1,829 contacts from Queensland, and 2,348 contacts from the rest of the country; and Beyond Blue (including the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service) answered 4,011 contacts from New South Wales, 3,714 contacts from Victoria, 2,043 contacts from Queensland, and 2,599 contacts from the rest of the country.

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Notes:
Figure COVID.7:
1. Lifeline numbers represent answered calls only. Kids Helpline numbers represent answered calls, webchats, emails, and outbound contacts. Beyond Blue numbers represent answered calls, webchats and emails.
2. The Beyond Blue COVID line changed their system for collecting information about the caller’s state/territory from 6 June 2020. Interpretation of Beyond Blue answered contacts should be made with caution due to high and inconsistent proportions of contacts with unknown jurisdiction.
3. Rest of country includes WA, SA, Tas, ACT and NT.
4. Rates are based on estimated resident populations as at 30 June 2019 for 2020 and 30 June 2020 for 2021 and 30 June 2021 for 2022.
5. Data points represent week commencing date.

Figure COVID.7.1:
1. Lifeline numbers represent answered calls only. Kids Helpline numbers represent answered calls, webchats, emails, and outbound contacts. Beyond Blue numbers represent answered calls, webchats and emails.
2. The Beyond Blue COVID line changed their system for collecting information about the caller’s state/territory from 6 June 2020.
3. Rest of country includes WA, SA, Tas, ACT and NT. 13 Dec to 9 Jan
4. The same period 1 year ago’ refers to the period 14 December 2020 to 10 January 2021. ‘The same period 2 years ago’ refers to the period 16 December 2019 to 12 January 2020.
Sources: Lifeline; Kids Helpline; Beyond Blue.

ReachOut

In the found weeks to 9 January 2022:

  • 47,363 visits to the ReachOut website originated from New South Wales, a decrease of 36.0% from the same period 1 year ago.
  • 33,542 visits originated from Victoria, a decrease of 25.3% from the same period 1 year ago.
  • 24,560 visits originated from Queensland, a decrease of 26.9% from the same period 1 year ago.

25,069 visits originated from the rest of Australia (excluding missing and unknown jurisdiction), a decrease of 28.0% from the same period 1 year ago (Figure COVID.8).

Figure COVID.8: ReachOut weekly website visits per 100,000 population, by jurisdiction, week, January 2020 – January 2022

Figure COVID.8: Line chart showing the rate per 100,000 population of average daily website visits per week to ReachOut from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the rest of the country (i.e. all states and territories excluding New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, and excluding missing and unknown jurisdiction) from January 2020 to January 2022. The rate of average daily website visits per week from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and the rest of the country show a similar pattern over the study period. The rate of ReachOut weekly website visits for New South Wales decreased from a peak of 419.4 in the week beginning 30 March 2020 to a low of 198.1 in the week beginning 21 December 2020, greatly fluctuating in subsequent months with a rate of 179.7 services in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of weekly website visits from Victoria decreased from a peak of 376.4 in the week beginning 18 May 2020 to 148.4 in the week beginning 21 December 2020, greatly fluctuating in subsequent months with a rate of 171.2 services in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of weekly website visits from Queensland decreased from a peak of 310.4 in the week beginning 20 April 2020 to 137.6 in the week beginning 21 December 2020, greatly fluctuating in subsequent months with a rate of 162.4 services in the week beginning 3 January 2022. The rate of weekly website visits from the rest of the country decreased from a peak of 294.6 in the week beginning 11 May 2020 to a low of 132.1 in the week beginning 21 December 2020, greatly fluctuating in subsequent months with a rate of 145.7 in the week beginning 3 January 2022.

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Notes:
1. Rest of country refers to visits identified as having originated in WA, SA, Tas, ACT and NT.
2. Rates are based on estimated resident populations as at 30 June 2019 for 2020 and 30 June 2020 for 2021 and 30 June 2021 for 2022.
3. Data points represent week commencing date.
Source: ReachOut.

Emerging research

Researchers and other organisations have studied the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of Australians. The Australian National University’s (ANU) COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey Program conducted surveys in February, April, May, August, and November 2020, in January, April, August and October 2021, and in January 2022. The ABS has also conducted The Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey monthly (survey ceased, final release published 14 July 2021) and University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Institute has looked at the mental health impacts of the pandemic in its weekly Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey. These surveys show similar findings about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of particular groups within the Australian population, for instance, young people and women are more likely to report higher levels of psychological distress.

Studies by other researchers have focussed on the longer-term mental health effects of the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns. These studies are reporting that initial increases in distress lessened for some demographics, as evidenced by indicators, such as suicide rates, life satisfaction, social connection and loneliness remaining largely stable throughout the first year of the pandemic into now. However, many pre-existing inequalities in psychological distress remain, and being near or experiencing COVID-19 infection, struggling with financial uncertainty introduced by responses to the pandemic, and spending more time home schooling, engaged in chores, or reading pandemic-related media has been associated with more psychological distress and worse subjective well-being (Aknin et al. 2021).