Mental health of people in Australia in the first month of COVID-19 restrictions: a national survey

Jane R.W. Fisher, Thach D. Tran, Karin Hammarberg, Jayagowri Sastry, Hau Nguyen, Heather Rowe, Sally Popplestone, Ruby Stocker, Claire Stubber, Maggie Kirkman

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196 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To estimate the population prevalence of clinically significant symptoms of depression, generalised anxiety, thoughts of being better off dead, irritability, and high optimism about the future, and of direct experience of COVID-19, loss of employment caused by COVID-19 restrictions, worry about contracting COVID-19, or major disadvantage because of the restrictions; to examine the relationship between these experiences and reporting mental symptoms. Design, setting, participants: Anonymous online survey of adult Australian residents, 3 April – 2 May 2020. Main outcome measures: Self-reported psychological status during the preceding fortnight assessed with the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9; symptoms of depression) and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7). Optimism about the future was assessed with a 10-point study-specific visual analogue scale. Results: 13 829 respondents contributed complete response data. The estimated prevalence of clinically significant symptoms of depression (PHQ-9 ≥ 10) was 27.6% (95% CI, 26.1–29.1%) and of clinically significant symptoms of anxiety (GAD-7 ≥ 10) 21.0% (95% CI, 19.6–22.4%); 14.6% of respondents (95% CI, 13.5–16.0%) reported thoughts of being better off dead or self-harm (PHQ-9, item 9) on at least some days and 59.2% (95% CI, 57.6–60.7%) that they were more irritable (GAD-7, item 6). An estimated 28.3% of respondents (95% CI, 27.1–29.6%) reported great optimism about the future (score ≥ 8). People who had lost jobs, were worried about contracting COVID-19, or for whom the restrictions had a highly adverse impact on daily life were more likely to report symptoms of depression or anxiety, and less likely to report high optimism than people without these experiences. Conclusions: Mental health problems were widespread among Australians during the first month of the stage two COVID-19 restrictions; in addition, about one-quarter of respondents reported mild to moderate symptoms of depression or anxiety. A public mental health response that includes universal, selective and indicated clinical interventions is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-464
Number of pages7
JournalThe Medical Journal of Australia
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Anxiety disorders
  • COVID-19
  • Depressive disorders
  • Infectious diseases
  • Mental health policy
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Suicide

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