Australians believe life is improving after lockdowns and are more confident in government, survey finds

Australians believe their life is improving and are more confident in the government compared with last year, with much of this wellbeing boost being reported among young people, the results of a national survey suggest.

The latest Covid Impact Monitoring survey of more than 3,510 adults, completed in August, found the 18 to 24 age group in particular are feeling more positive about their lives. This is despite being the age group to suffer some of the greatest psychological distress during the peak of the pandemic.

“That does not mean that Australia has returned to pre-pandemic levels of wellbeing and mental health,” the results of the latest survey, published on Wednesday, found.

“However, wellbeing and mental health outcomes have improved over recent months as lockdown conditions have substantially eased, but despite high case numbers.”

In May 2020, roughly half of Australians thought their life had gotten “worse” (51.3%), including 6.5% who thought it had gotten “much worse”.

By August 2022, this had reduced to about one-in-five Australians who thought that their life had gotten worse in the 12-months prior, with 3.9% thinking that their life had got much worse. “Young Australians (aged 18 to 34) were also more positive about the previous 12 months, particularly compared to those aged 45 to 64,” the paper found.

“Specifically, only 13.6% of those aged 18 to 24 and 15.5% of those aged 25 to 34 thought their life had gotten worse over the previous 12 months compared to 25.1 and 25.6% of those aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 respectively.”

More than two-thirds of those aged 18 to 24 thought that their life had improved (67.4%), while 59.4% of those aged 25 to 34 thought their life had improved.

The proportion of people who had “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of confidence in the federal government increased from 35.6% in April 2022 – just prior to the election – to 52.9% in August 2022.

The survey is led by Prof Nicholas Biddle, the associate director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods. There have been 12 waves of data collection for the survey throughout the pandemic.

The latest results “show Labor voters were more happy with the election than Liberal voters were disappointed with the election,” Biddle said.

“So there’s a net positive effect. But that’s only a small part of the overall change in wellbeing. I think that definitely for younger Australians, an ability to do many of the types of activities which were restricted during the last couple of years has contributed to that improvement.”

Prof Caroline Hunt, the head of the Clinical Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney, agreed for young people in particular “a new government with greater commitment to tackling climate change and other issues close to their hearts” had likely provided a wellbeing boost.

However, Prof Maree Teesson, the director of The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health at the University of Sydney, said the survey was not strong enough evidence to be assured of an overall “bounce back” for young people’s wellbeing.

“While 67% of young people surveyed ‘feel more positive’ there is only a 5% reduction in psychological distress and on average young people are still reporting psychological distress,” Teeson said.

“This was the case before the pandemic and it’s still the case now.”

The recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing showed 40% of 16- to 25-year-olds had a mental disorder, which is more than double the number in 2007, the last time the ABS survey was run.

Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank research program officer, Scarlett Smout, said the Covid survey shows young Australians still have the highest level of psychological distress among all age groups, and are experiencing higher distress than pre-Covid.

“While overall youth mental health may be improving, we need to take a closer look to determine if those who were hit hard by the pandemic – particularly those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and First Nations Australians – are experiencing the same improvements in mental health,” she said.

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