The research reported in the paper In their own words: An Australian community sample’s priority concerns regarding mental health in the context of COVID- 19 was undertaken as part of Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank.

Emerging Australian research identifies that widespread infection control measures including physical distancing, self-isolation and localised lockdowns may have significant, long-lasting impacts on psychological health.

The paper explores Australian community members’ perspectives on mental health priorities during the pandemic. It draws on qualitative data from a diverse cross-sectional sample of Australian adults across all states and territories.

Participants highlighted that economic instability and social isolation were drivers of poor mental health amongst many in Australia, and both experiences were heightened and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Australians who are unwell face multiple barriers to seeking and receiving good mental health care, including an already over-burdened mental health service system and widespread stigma around mental health and help-seeking.

The study found more than half of participants reported a deterioration of mental health during the initial COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020. Trends in poor mental health have persisted for over a year since Australia’s first COVID-19 case, with approximately one in five Australians reporting their mental health as worse or much worse than prior to the pandemic.

A key concern for participants who reported having poor mental health was the existence of multiple competing barriers to accessing high-quality mental health care. According to participant responses, the pandemic placed additional pressures on an already over-burdened mental health service system, leaving many without timely, appropriate support.

The insights gained from the expertise of Australians’ lived experience in this research could, through targeted policy planning, ultimately support a more responsive, integrated and effective mental health system, during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: PLOS ONE Research article