University of Sydney researchers are urgently seeking participants in a study that aims to explore the effects of social distancing on adults’ physical and mental wellbeing.
Below, Dr Nia Luxton, on behalf of the StayHome4Health research team, encourages Croakey readers to engage with this project.
Nia Luxton writes:
The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to the Australian Government adopting numerous measures such as quarantine, isolation of infected people and social distancing.
Social distancing is a strategy to minimise contact with other individuals to reduce disease transmission and reduce the pressure on health services, and has been shown to be successful in prior pandemics, such as influenza.
Current social distancing regulations, in place since 16 March, appear to have reduced the spread of COVID-19 in Australia; however, there have been negative impacts on people’s health and wellbeing, through job losses, school closures and reduced social contact among friends, families and the wider community.
Negative impacts on physical and mental health during quarantine and social isolation have previously been reported.
In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, high levels of psychological distress have been reported amongst people in China, Iran and Brazil, particularly among females, those who lived close to an epicentre of an outbreak, and those who did not or could not engage in physical activity.
The Australian Government Department of Health has recommended that whilst people socially distanced, they stay connected through online, social media or telephone contact.
This recommendation is on the whole feasible as many Australians have access to either the internet, a mobile phone or a landline. However, a recent report from the Centre of Social Impact noted that there are still Australians who do not have either sufficient digital skills or connectivity to ‘stay connected’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tools for pandemic research
Nonetheless, the ubiquitous nature of mobile and smart phones in Australia mean they have the capacity for large-scale monitoring and data collection, with the benefit of accessing hard–to–reach populations at times of public health crises.
During this extraordinary time of COVID-19 and social distancing in Australia, mobile communications technology are being used in a range of new initiatives that range from surveying the health and wellbeing of health professionals in the frontline, to providing support to Australians’ mental health, or those with breast cancer or chronic lung disease.
Despite the rapid response by national and international scientific community to understand COVID‐19, there is still much to know about the effects of social distancing, particularly in Australia, a country naïve to pandemics.
It is therefore important to ask this diverse nation about their health and mental wellbeing, to find out what is happening in their day to day life and about the impact on risk factors of COVID-19 and social distancing and isolation.
It is anticipated that there will be heightened levels of anxiety and psychological distress and cardiovascular disease risk factors, due to an increase in consumption of alcohol and cigarette smoking, reduced physical activity, access to medications and social disconnection.
Information gained throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia will enable researchers to provide evidence-based guidance on how to promote physical and mental health wellbeing during both future periods of COVID-19 infections and future pandemics that require social distancing.
Therefore, our team at the University of Sydney has created the “Stayhome4health” study.
Through weekly three-minute surveys, over a 12-week period, we would like to collect information about how social distancing is impacting your physical and mental wellbeing.
The information we collect will help inform government and health agencies on how to reduce the potential negative consequences of social distancing and identify personal and social factors that may increase cardiovascular disease risk factors.
If you are interested in supporting researchers at Westmead Applied Research Centre and the Matilda Centre to explore the effects of COVID-19 social distancing on physical and mental wellbeing, and are over 18, live in Australia and have a mobile phone, please:
- click on the study’s weblink, or
- text message “stayhome” to 0437 045 826, or
- sign up via our Facebook page: @StayHome4Health-19 Study.
Dr Nia Luxton is Research Fellow, Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC), Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney, and provided the details below. Follow on Twitter: @NiaALuxton.
Lifeline Australia – immediate mental health and crisis support, and suicide prevention – 13 11 14 – open 24/7 (phone); 7pm-midnight AEST (online chat). https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/topics/mental-health-and-wellbeing-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak
Beyondblue – mental health support – 1300 224 636 – open 24/7 (phone); 3pm-midnight, 7 days/week (online chat). www.beyondblue.org.au
Head to health – tips for maintaining good mental health and information on how to access mental health services. https://headtohealth.gov.au/covid-19-support/covid-19