Young Australians experienced increased depression and anxiety during COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 but consumed less alcohol, according to a new report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney .
Worryingly, the increase in their mental health problems has not been offset by a greater demand for help from mental health professionals.
The researchers used survey data from 1,927 young people – with a median age of 22 – as part of the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study (APSALS) cohort. They found that half of the cohort considered their mental health to have deteriorated in May-June 2020, compared to August 2019-March 2020.
“Young people may be disproportionately affected by certain stressors associated with the pandemic, such as the reduction of occasional working hours and the disruption of other structured activities such as higher education,” explains Emily Upton, research fellow at NDARC and clinical psychologist.
The report found that despite the rise in generalized anxiety and depression, there had been no increase in the number of young people seeking mental health support from medical professionals.
“Young people tend to have little involvement in mental health treatment and rely more on self-reliance strategies to deal with mental health issues,” Upton explains.
Delay in young people’s access to support
The report found that although the Australian government has introduced initiatives to increase access to mental health support during the pandemic, there may be a delay in young Australians accessing this support.
“Cost is a major barrier to accessing treatment for young people. The reduction in income during the pandemic may be a factor in the low rate of seeking help and, although government discounts are available, these do not cover the full cost of psychological treatment, ”Ms. Upton said.
In another report using the same APSALS survey data, researchers found that alcohol use among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic had declined.
Dr Philip Clare, biostatistician at The Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney, said overall alcohol consumption among young people during the May and June 2020 restrictions has declined. “It is down 17% from February 2020, and there has been a 34% drop in the rate of alcohol-related harm.”
The report found that the changes in consumption appear to be driven by the COVID-19 restrictions.
Increase in consumption “virtually”
“Young people generally consume more alcohol outside the home, so we would expect alcohol consumption to decrease during COVID-19 restrictions. However, we have seen an increase in alcohol consumption alone and consumption “virtually” with others, ”says Dr. Clare.
Likewise, the decrease in alcohol-related harms may be due to the fact that alcohol consumption was more likely to occur alone or “virtually” with others due to the need to isolate oneself, this which reduces the risk of harm such as arguments with strangers, traffic accidents. “
The report stresses that it is also important to understand alcohol-related trends among young people so that relevant harm reduction strategies can be implemented.
“Although alcohol consumption and harms have decreased, we may see an increase in the future due to loss of tolerance,” said Dr Clare.
Read Ms Emily Upton’s APSALS report.
Read Dr Philip Clare’s APSALS report.
People can access free, confidential advice on alcohol and other drugs by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline – 1800 250 015.