Older Canberrans were able to look after their mental health during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Early Impact of COVID-19 and Lockdowns on Health Outcomes for older adults report, which was commissioned by the ACT Government, examined the mental health and wellbeing of over 1,000 people aged between 59-65 from Canberra and the surrounding regions during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

It found older Canberrans were emotionally resilient as initial lockdowns and social distancing measures were introduced in the ACT, with many reporting mental and physical health outcomes similar to pre-pandemic years.

Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson said the report would help the ACT Government develop strategies to support the resilience and mental health of older Canberrans during times of disaster.

“Canberra had a unique start to the pandemic, occurring immediately after the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season and an intense hailstorm,” Minister Davidson said.

“While, we were fortunate in the early days of the pandemic to not experience the same level of lockdowns and case numbers as other parts of Australia, we cannot forget that this was a distressing time for many Canberrans, and particularly for older members of our community.”

“We know older Canberrans are at a greater risk of COVID-19 and were more likely to experience isolation or loneliness due to restrictions which can lead to poorer mental health outcomes.”

Those who were personally affected by COVID-19 were more likely to report higher levels of anxiety, depression and poorer sleep quality compared to respondents who felt less impacted by COVID-19.

The joint study from the University of New South Wales Sydney and ACT Health also found:

  • Alcohol consumption amongst older members of the community increased during the initial lockdowns, which was a trend seen around Australia.
  • There were lower rates of suicidality, smoking and psychological trauma during the early stages of the pandemic compared to before the pandemic.
  • Those who were directly impacted by the 2019-20 bushfire season were more likely to experience negative mental health outcomes during the pandemic.

“As we continue to learn to live with COVID after a number of challenging years, people may not yet have taken time to reflect on the strain the pandemic has had on their mental health,” Minister Davidson said.

“While this study gives us a better understanding of the experience of older Canberrans during the early months of COVID, individual experiences may be quite different. We also know that young Canberrans experienced quite different mental health impacts during COVID.”

“Please remember there is always someone to listen and help if you are feeling distressed.”

The full report can be read at: https://health.act.gov.au/about-our-health-system/data-and-publications/healthstats/epidemiology-publications

For mental health support services in the ACT, visit: https://www.health.act.gov.au/about-our-health-system/office-mental-health-and-wellbeing/need-help

Quote attributable to Dr Elizabeth Moore, Coordinator-General of the Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing:

“It is pleasing to note the resilience of older people during challenging times. Their wisdom and strength contribute to our families and our broader community.  I encourage people to speak about their experiences and to both offer and receive support.”

Quotes attributable to Professor Kaarin Anstey, lead of the Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, UNSW:

“Our survey conducted early in the pandemic showed the immediate impacts of the lockdowns on mental health. “

“At the group level we did not find an overall reduction in mental health associated with the COVID-19 lockdowns. But when we examined the variation in those who reported feeling more impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, we found that participants who reported feeling more impacted by the pandemic lockdowns on average reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, suicidality, poorer sleep quality, less self-reported physical activity and a lower sense of control of their life.”

“These findings suggests that the lockdown was especially difficult for people with poorer mental health. Whilst we saw overall resilience at the group level, the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 lockdowns are not yet fully known.”