According to a study of people living in the city and those who don’t, rural and regional communities across NSW have fared better than those in Sydney in dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.
The findings of the first major representative study of COVID-19 mental health impacts in NSW, undertaken on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of NSW, shows that one-in-five people in the Sydney area experienced a new mental health issue during 2020, compared to one-in-10 across the state as whole.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner Catherine Lourey said rural and regional residents reported experiencing fewer relationship, financial and practical impacts than those in the city during 2020.
Current stay-at-home orders in Sydney yet to be measured
Mental health responses to the most recent stay-at-home orders in greater Sydney are yet to be measured, but Ms Lourey said ‘pandemic fatigue’ may well have increased negative mental health experiences for many people.
‘Unsurprisingly, the impact of COVID-19 and the associated shut-downs has been more muted in rural and regional communities than it has been in Sydney,’ Ms Lourey said.
‘Overall, younger Sydney metro residents were more likely to report either negative or positive impacts than older people living in rural or regional NSW.
‘Over 30 per cent of those in rural and regional communities reported experiencing no negative impacts during 2020, compared to 20 per cent of those in the greater Sydney area. Having said that, they also experienced fewer of the positive impacts reported by those in metro areas, such as being more careful with money, less road and public transport congestion and a slower pace of life.
More anxious, more stressed and less in control
‘Although the negative impacts of COVID-19 were less, around one-third of rural and regional residents reported being more anxious, more stressed and less in control than usual during 2020,’ Ms Lourey said.
‘At the same time, regional and rural residents were more likely than those in the city to name looking out for neighbours and the elderly as ways in which their community has benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic.’
The study involved 2,000 NSW residents aged over 18 – including more than 600 from rural and regional NSW – representing a cross-section of the community, with a further sample of people who reported a mental health issue in 2018-2019 or a new mental health issue in 2020 – as advised by a health professional.
The research was commissioned to provide insight into the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in NSW, the types of support being accessed and their impact on those living with mental health issues, and identify what is needed to support wellbeing as the fallout from COVID-19 continues.
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