SYDNEY – Researchers from the University of Sydney have surveyed over 1,000 Australians on their experiences with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now seek to use the results to inform future policy.

The study, published in the PLOS ONE journal on Tuesday, surveyed 1,037 Australians aged 18 to 89 between December 2020 and June 2021, measuring their own mental health experience and engagement with mental health resources.

Study lead author, Sydney University mental health researcher Marlee Bower, said the pandemic “pressurized” existing triggers for mental health, and led many Australians to seek mental health support for the first time ever.

One in five respondents said that an increase in financial hardship and changes in their social support system during the pandemic had an adverse effect on their mental health. More than one in five said the pandemic has increased pressures on an already overburdened mental health system.

“The public has shared how flaws in institutional policies designed to support Australians experiencing hardship and ill-health, were a contradiction — instead having a negative effect on their mental health and ability to recover,” said Bower.

Despite this surge in need, and governmental initiatives to lower the cost of mental health treatment during the pandemic, accessibility remained a barrier for many, according to the responses.

“Many respondents said accessing the current mental health support system was expensive and difficult to navigate and, compounded by the community and political stigma about what it means to be unemployed, receive welfare or mental health support.”

The researchers hoped that the project would prompt policy makers to integrate “the lived experiences of everyday Australians” into addressing the challenges faced by Australia’s mental health resources.

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