Major study out on effects of Covid-19 lockdown

New Zealanders are proving resilient during the current lockdown but there has been a rise in levels of mental distress, according to the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS).

Professor Chris Sibley NZAVS

Around 1000 New Zealanders were surveyed in the first two weeks of Level 4 lockdown, with those results then compared to a pre-lockdown control group who had answered the same questions late last year before Covid-19 reached public awareness.

The survey incorporated three broad themes: trust in science, police, health officials and politicians; physical and mental health and wellbeing including relationships and social connectedness; standard of living and economic concerns.

It found slightly higher levels of psychological distress in the post-lockdown group, with 21.1 percent of people reporting mild to moderate stress compared to 16.2 percent pre-lockdown.

One of the most significant differences pre- and post-lockdown was a higher level of patriotism in the post-lockdown group along with higher levels of institutional trust in science, government, police and health authorities. This finding is consistent with previous international research following national disasters such as 9/11 and the H1N1 pandemic.

“On the one hand, when facing an external threat, humans tend to tighten bonds generally and group bonds in particular, including bonding on a national level to repel the threat the virus poses,” Professor Chris Sibley says.

“But there is the competing theory that conspiracies and the search for a scapegoat are also natural responses we humans have when faced with potential disaster, however this appears not to be the case in New Zealand, or at least not so far.”

In the early stages of the pandemic and lockdown, the survey results suggest that people lean on and trust their politicians, scientists, police, and communities and New Zealanders have remained generally resilient in the face of drastic social change.

The exception was the reported increase in psychological distress and concerns that, in the longer term, the effect of Covid-19 will be to reinforce existing structural inequalities including health inequalities.

Professor Sibley says that even as people work to protect their communities by adhering to restrictions imposed under lockdown, there is a cost to mental health.

“While we hope these survey results provide rapid and useful information to governments, policymakers, and people at home, we believe a lot more work will need to be done to better understand the longer-term social effects of the pandemic.”

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