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Mental health concerns skyrocket, 81 per cent of Australians report negative impact from the pandemic

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Corporate / Mental Health / Australia

Mental health concerns skyrocket, 81 per cent of Australians report negative impact from the pandemic

Women, the recently unemployed and younger age groups report the highest stress levels, according to Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index

MELBOURNE, May 4, 2020 – Morneau Shepell, a leader in integrated HR solutions, announced today that Australians are experiencing uniquely high levels of mental health ailments, including anxiety and depression, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting social and economic fallout. Morneau Shepell’s new Mental Health Index shows that a significant majority (81 per cent) of respondents report the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, while 96 per cent of respondents say they have experienced some type of personal disruption.

The Mental Health Index also shows about half (46 per cent) believe that they will be able to cope, while another 34 per cent indicate a greater concern and uncertainty over their ability to cope. About half of those people indicate a very negative impact or mental health crisis. In April, Australians had a mental health score of 58, compared to the benchmark of 75. That places the typical Australian at the same level as the lowest one percent of the benchmark, indicative of a population in serious distress. The 17-point drop in mental health is unparalleled during the three-year period in which Morneau Shepell collected benchmark data.

Data from April demonstrated significant declines in levels of mental health and ability to cope with notably lower scores for: anxiety (-20.3 points), optimism (-19.5 points), depression (-18.7 points) and work productivity (-17.0 points). Those who were employed within the previous six months but are not currently, those who identify as female, those with two or more children and those between 30-39 years of age reported the largest increases in stress levels. Similarly, households with incomes between $100K to $150K experienced the greatest increase in mental stress in April compared to other income groups. While all areas of Australia reported increased stress levels, respondents in New South Wales registered the highest stress increase month over month.

“While the immediate focus has been on dealing with the physical health and safety concerns surrounding the escalation of COVID-19, this index demonstrates just how deeply Australians’ mental health is being impacted by the pandemic,” said Jamie MacLennan, managing director, Australia operations. “Paying attention to the mental health of working Australians is important to quality of life and business productivity. Companies that invest in the mental health of their workforces can help their people recover a sense of wellbeing and normalcy in their lives as we work together to seek a way forward.”

Finances and fear of losing loved ones remain highest concerns

The Mental Health Index also measured specific concerns and fears related to the pandemic. The most pervasive concerns affecting Australians’ mental health include:

  • the financial impact of the pandemic (62 per cent);
  • fear of losing a loved one (40 per cent);
  • fear of becoming sick with the virus (34 per cent); and
  • uncertainty around how the virus will impact family bonds and relationships (34 per cent).

“This research establishes an important national baseline for Australian workers’ mental health and has direct implications for individuals, employers and governments as we seek to move beyond the pandemic as a society,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “By working together, we can provide mental health support to those who need it, minimizing the long-term damage and enabling us to bounce back even stronger than before.”

Morneau Shepell will publish the Mental Health Index on a monthly basis going forward. It will assess changes in mental health and the issues that Australians are most anxious about as the situation and outlook evolves during and after the pandemic. Morneau Shepell also revealed country-specific data from its Mental Health Index in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

About the Mental Health Index

The data for this report was collected through an on-line survey of representative group of 1,000 residents of Australia and who are currently employed or who were employed for within the prior six months. The same respondents participate each month to remove sampling bias. The respondents were asked to consider the prior two weeks when answering each question. The Mental Health Index is published monthly, starting April 2020. The benchmark data was collected in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The data for the current report was collected between April 4th, 2020 and April 9th, 2020. The margins of error for the survey are +/- 3.2 per cent, valid 19 times out of 20. The full Australian report can be found here.

The Mental Health Index is owned by Morneau Shepell – the wellbeing company that acquired LifeWorks in 2018.

About Morneau Shepell

Morneau Shepell is the leading provider of technology-enabled HR services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing through our cloud-based platform. Our focus is providing world-class solutions to our clients to support the mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing of their people. By improving lives, we improve business. Our approach spans services in employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement consulting, actuarial and investment services. Morneau Shepell employs approximately 6,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in 162 countries. For more information, visit


Heather MacDonald
Morneau Shepell

Mike Jurs