Covid-19 mental health survey shows participants are ‘stressed but resilient’

14 May 2020

Dr Carrie Barber.

Psychologists at the University of Waikato have released preliminary results of their survey looking into New Zealanders’ mental health during the Covid-19 crisis, and the findings show Kiwis are feeling stressed but resilient.

The online survey, which was open for participation during April, saw more than 1,000 responses from New Zealanders, and the research team now have initial findings of how people were thinking, feeling, and coping with the lockdown and the threat of the pandemic.

“As New Zealand confronted the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Level 4 lockdown, we were interested in how people think about protecting and improving their physical and emotional health, and the strategies they would use to cope with the practical and emotional fallout of the lockdown,” says senior lecturer, Dr Carrie Barber.

“Through this initial restrictive phase of New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we would describe our participants as stressed but resilient.

“Most have dramatically changed their lifestyle; only about 10% were working outside of the home in April, and almost all are taking the government’s guidelines about health precautions seriously, and practicing social distancing and handwashing.”

The survey showed most respondents considered themselves healthy, and were not personally worried about being infected with Covid-19. However, they were concerned about the health of others and the financial impact of the pandemic.

About one quarter did consider themselves vulnerable to the virus, mostly because of existing respiratory conditions and age.

Dr Barber says the survey also showed the importance of the media for information.

“Most people said they rely on New Zealand-based online news sources and government websites for information, and many listed the daily news briefings as a positive source of coping and support.

“They were overwhelmingly positive about the amount and quality of information available to them.”

The financial side of the pandemic and the lockdown was shown to be weighing on participants’ minds, as 60% reported at least some financial impact of the crisis, and 14% were seriously affected.

“Many are worried, especially about infecting others or losing loved ones, and rightly so. Their travel and daily lives are (temporarily) dramatically impacted, with more than 30% experiencing high levels of anxiety and/or depression,” says Dr Barber.

“In spite of this challenging situation, participants described using mostly positive, effective coping strategies. They have connected with whānau and friends, engaged in new and old hobbies and activities, and exercised, often with a walk around the neighbourhood.”

Many answers also focused on being grateful to live in New Zealand, and echoed the values of being kind and protecting the vulnerable members of the community.

According to Dr Barber, this study is a snapshot of an ongoing, dynamic situation in a complex, diverse community.

“We will continue to analyse the data to better understand how our thoughts and beliefs about health and health behaviours are related to other aspects of behaviour and well-being.

“With a number of other studies in progress in New Zealand and overseas, we encourage readers to participate, to share and learn from their experiences, and to keep connecting, walking, and seeing the silver lining during these difficult days.”

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