Young Australians’ mental health improving despite COVID-19

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians has improved dramatically, according to a new analysis by researchers at the Australian National University (ANU).

Over the past two years, the ANU Center for Social Research and Methods has conducted multiple rounds of a COVID Impact Monitoring survey to examine the impact of the pandemic on key subgroups of the Australian population.

In some much-needed good news, the latest survey of more than 3,500 people found Australians aged 18-24 are more positive about their lives and future and experience less mental stress.

“We saw a large and significant shift in the number of young Australians who reported that their life and well-being had improved, particularly when compared to Australians aged 45 to 64,” says study co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle, Associate Director of the ANU Center for Social Research and Methods.
“More than two in three (67.4%) young Australians say their life has improved over the past 12 months. This was also the age group with the greatest improvement in life satisfaction since our April 2022 survey.
“We also found a 5% reduction in mental distress in Australians aged 18-24. This was the age group that reported the largest decrease in mental distress.”

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These psychological burdens, while still higher than before the pandemic, are much lower than in 2020, when COVID-19 initially hit Australia.

And while young Aussies continue to show the highest levels of mental distress of any age group compared to pre-COVID levels, Biddle says this is still encouraging news.

Young person on the train, mental health
Credit: Solskin/Getty Images

“Young people in Australia have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it comes to their economic security, future prospects and mental health and well-being,” he explains. “It is therefore encouraging to see that the majority of young Australians say they are feeling much better than they were 12 months ago, despite still facing the ongoing pressures of the pandemic.”

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The researchers collected longitudinal data from a series of surveys of the same group of people, just before COVID-19 and then 11 times since COVID began affecting Australia.

Overall, they found that life satisfaction has steadily increased since January 2022 and mental distress has also steadily decreased between October 2021 and August 2022 for all Australians.

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“As of May 2020, around half of Australians thought their life was worse (51.3%), including 6.5% who thought it was much worse,” says Biddle. “By August 2022, only around one in five Australians thought their life had gotten worse in the 12 months since August 2021, with just 3.9% feeling their life had gotten much worse.

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“And as of October 2021, 27.2% of Australian adults said they felt hopeless at least some of the time. By August 2022, that proportion had fallen to 22.3%, a drop of about 981,000 Australian adults.

However, according to Biddle, this does not mean that Australia has reached pre-pandemic levels of well-being and mental health.

“Life satisfaction was lower in August 2022 than in October 2019. There are also more Australians experiencing high levels of mental distress,” he explains. “However, well-being and mental health have improved in recent months as lockdown conditions have eased significantly, and this despite high case numbers.”

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