Question: I have noticed as virus cases have gone down in Australia, some high-profile people (but also my friends and family), have been saying government measures went too far.
They are saying the economic and social cost of strong lockdowns will be worse than the health cost if we had gone for lighter measures. They’re talking about job losses and mental health problems.
As someone who has had mental health concerns and struggled with unemployment over my adult life, I think it’s awesome that these topics are getting airtime. But why only now? Most of my friends and family and many of these celebrity commentators have taken no interest in these topics until now.
Maybe I am being too negative, but could it be it’s OK to bring up these problems when it’s easy to blame someone for them – “Oh the bloody government” – but not OK to bring them up when the answer is more complicated or might involve a change in thinking?
Answer: I should begin with an apology. You sent me this email a few weeks ago when Australia was recording very few new cases per day. At the time there was a lot of discussion in the media about whether lockdown measures had been over-the-top. People are, of course, still talking about this, but the climb in cases has changed the public conversation again, and I’m responding to your email in a slightly different context to the one you sent it in.
Having said that, I think the questions you ask are still relevant and important. I asked Professor Phil Batterham from the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University for his expert thoughts on them.
“There is extensive evidence that engagement in meaningful employment and higher job satisfaction have positive impacts on mental health and wellbeing. In contrast, unemployment is associated with increased risk of mental health problems. These relationships have been established for many years,” Professor Batterham told me.
“The major and sudden impact of COVID-19 on employment has made the relationship very salient in the past few months. It is not surprising that people may have become much more aware that employment, financial stress and social isolation are impacting on the wellbeing and mental health of the community. The situation is unprecedented in recent history, which would largely explain why there has been a rapid shift in public awareness.”
Your point about it being easy to single out a responsible party in cases like this is a really interesting one. Professor Batterham says governments take credit and receive blame for many aspects of our society, because they control significant policy levers that affect employment and the social safety net.
“The policy response to COVID-19 has been very prominent, so it is not surprising that there has been a lot of commentary around how we should respond as a society. Of course there are many factors beyond government that impact on the relationship between work and mental health – at the individual, social and community level – but government policy can be modified rapidly and have far-reaching impacts on employment, which may be why it is the focus of much recent discussion.”
You mentioned that you think it’s positive that the connection between unemployment and mental health is being discussed, albeit opportunistically by some, and Professor Batterham says this could be one bright side of a mostly dark situation.
“Nearly everyone in Australia has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the impact has been challenging, there may also be some silver linings, such as increased awareness of the complex interactions between employment, social connection, policy and health.”
Let’s hope that awareness, and the discussion that goes with it, doesn’t dwindle as the virus fades from our headlines.
Source: Thanks smh.com