Stricter lockdowns in response to COVID-19 have led to higher loss of life satisfaction and worsening mental health and wellbeing outcomes, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).
Led by the ANU Center for Social Research and Methods and using the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 Severity Index, the study is the first in Australia to examine the direct links between lockdowns and the life satisfaction throughout the COVID-19 period.
The study also found that a higher number of cases and deaths caused by COVID-19 had a negative impact on people’s well-being, but to a lesser extent than the lockdowns.
“Our study, which analyzed the experiences of over 6,500 adults from across Australia and over a two-and-a-half-year period, shows that the stricter the lockdown, the greater the loss of life satisfaction,” said said co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle.
“We kind of knew that intuitively. However, it is only by carefully quantifying the level of lockdown restrictions and linking them to high-quality long-term investigation that we are able to accurately capture the impacts and reflect on the trade-offs that society has had to do during the COVID-19 period, and may need to do again in the future.
“There is no doubt that the lockdowns were essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and limit the number of cases and potential deaths. These measures were designed to keep Australians safe, and they did.
“However, our results also show that measures designed to help protect people from COVID-19 also have a clear impact on mental health and wellbeing.
“It remains to be seen whether this effect is lasting as we abandon strict lockdowns and adapt to ‘COVID normal’.”
Study co-author, Associate Professor Ben Edwards, said there was also a clear link between rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and falling life satisfaction. .
“From our results, it is clear that increased policy stringency and increased cases are both associated with a deterioration in people’s well-being and also led to a pronounced increase in loneliness. felt by people,” said Associate Professor Edwards.
“However, the impact of strict lockdowns tended to be stronger and more impactful than an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.”
The study was also able to determine if the impacts of the lockdowns were the same for everyone in Australia. According to Professor Biddle, some important differences emerged.
“We found that for men, the severity of lockdowns had a stronger impact on their life satisfaction. In contrast, among women, the increase in the number of cases seemed to be a more important factor,” he said.
“We also found that COVID-19 policy stringency had a greater impact on young Australians than on older Australians, and on states and territories that experienced multiple waves of infections, namely New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.”
The study builds on the first comprehensive tracking of the stringency of lockdowns in Australian capital cities as well as states and territories.
Based on the Oxford Stringency Index, the study looked at government policy responses across Australia to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, including closures of schools, places of work and public transportation, cancellation of public events and restrictions on the size of gatherings, and restrictions on domestic and international travel.
“Between January 2020 and August 2022, Melbourne recorded the strictest lockdown, scoring 94.44 on a scale of 100 in August 2021,” Prof Biddle said.
“Melbourne also had the second strictest lockdown, 90.74, recording this three times – in April 2020, August 2020 and October 2021.
“Other cities, including Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin and Sydney, all had lockdowns that scored 90.74 for severity over the same period, but not as frequently. Some states and territories also recorded the same score.
“What is also clear is that since January 2022, lockdown measures across Australia have significantly decreased in severity.”
Associate Professor Edwards said the new ANU study added important additional findings to previous research by him and his colleagues at Oxford University.
“In this study, published in June and comparing policy responses across Australia, we found that Victorians had to live under the most stringent COVID-19 responses,” he said.
“In addition, people in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, and to a lesser extent in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, endured significantly more days living under home support orders, learning distance and closure of workplaces compared to all others. Australian cities, states and territories.
“However, we also found that Victorians were less compliant than those in other jurisdictions with less stringent policy settings.”