Lockdowns risk backtracking 2021 mental health rebound

By Melissa Coade

Monday July 19, 2021

Personal gains made following the disruption of COVID-19 are at risk of being lost due to the lockdown.
Personal gains made following the disruption of COVID-19 are at risk of being lost due to the lockdown. (michaelheim/Adobe)

New data from the Australian Worker Wellbeing Pulse, one of the nation’s largest datasets reflecting the current mental health and wellbeing of employees, has indicated that personal gains made this year following the disruption of COVID-19 are at risk of being lost due to the lockdown of Sydney and Melbourne.

The survey was conducted by Converge International and based on an analysis of 12,915 worker records for the 1 April – 30 June, 2021 quarter.

Converge CEO Jenny George said the survey responses demonstrated how shaky wellness recovery can be, with an analysis of employee assistance requests (EAP) increasing by 16% in the first week of Melbourne’s May lockdown, and an increase of 15% EAP inquiries recorded in Sydney for the week of 21 June after its lockdown was announced.

“Our concern is that COVID-19 lockdowns across the country place considerable strain on the wellbeing of Australian workers last year and issues such as stress and anxiety are starting to spike again,” George said. 

According to the data analysis, EAP case numbers have not shifted over the school holiday period – when you often see a dip – suggesting that workers are continuing to access these support services as they juggle their work from home and carers’ responsibilities.

For women, issues relating to the home were ranked higher with 70% of those citing parenting and family-related matters as a stressor being women. 

George warned that these initial patterns in the data could be superficial and it was yet to be seen if the turnaround in mental health and wellbeing that most sectors had shown after the disruption of 2020 could be lost.

“What we are experiencing is a spike in new employee assistance requests each time a lockdown hits,” she said. 

Converge International is a psychology and mental health service that supports a number of government agencies departments including the CSIRO, bureau of meteorology, department of defence, department of social services, and Victorian department of premier and cabinet. 

While the company recorded a strong rebound in the wellbeing of workers across industries in 2021, the education and training sector had increases in spouse and partner issues (up 44%), reports of ongoing stress (up by 8%), and reports of other mental health conditions (up by 60%).

“Sector-by-sector trends are particularly interesting — while the education and training sector has shown some concerning trends; the healthcare, social assistance and public administration and safety sectors have bounced back — perhaps a reflection of the good management of the COVID-19 pandemic over the first half of this year,” George said. 


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