Lockdowns Led to Less Life Satisfaction

A shop closed due to COVID-19.

Stricter lockdowns in response to COVID-19 led to higher loss in life satisfaction and worse mental health and wellbeing outcomes. (Image: via Pixabay)

Stricter lockdowns in response to COVID-19 led to a higher loss in life satisfaction and worse mental health and well-being outcomes, new research from The Australian National University (ANU) shows.  

Led by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods and using Oxford University’s COVID-19 Stringency Index, the study is the first in Australia to examine the direct links between extreme measures and life satisfaction for the entire COVID-19 period. The study also found that higher case numbers and deaths caused by COVID-19 had a negative impact on people’s well-being, but to a lesser extent than lockdowns; Co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said:  

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“Our study, which analyzed the experiences of more than 6,500 adults across Australia over two and a half years, shows the stricter the lockdown, the higher the loss in life satisfaction. We knew this intuitively. However, it is only by carefully quantifying the level of lockdown restrictions and linking these to a high-quality long-term survey that we can capture the impacts accurately and think about the trade-offs society needs to make during the COVID-19 period and may need to make again in the future.  

“There is no doubt lockdowns were essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and limit case numbers and potential deaths. These measures were designed to keep Australians safe, and they did. However, our findings also show that measures designed to help protect people from COVID-19 have a clear impact on mental health and wellbeing. Whether this effect is long-lasting as we abandon strict lockdowns and adapt to ‘COVID normal’ remains to be seen.”  

The study also found that higher case numbers and deaths caused by COVID-19 had a negative impact on people's wellbeing, but to a lesser extent than lockdowns.
The study also found that higher case numbers and deaths caused by COVID-19 had a negative impact on people’s well-being, but to a lesser extent than lockdowns. (Image: via Pixabay)

Lower life satisfaction with increased COVID-19 cases

Study co-author Associate Professor Ben Edwards said there was also a clear connection between rising COVID-19 case numbers and lower life satisfaction:  

“From our findings, it’s clear that increases in policy stringency and cases are both associated with a worsening in people’s wellbeing and also led to a pronounced increase in how lonely people felt. However, the impact of strict lockdowns tended to be stronger and have more impact than an increase in COVID-19 case numbers.”  

The study also looked at whether the impacts of lockdowns were the same for everyone in Australia. According to Professor Biddle, some critical differences emerged:   

“We found that for males, the strictness of lockdowns had a stronger impact on their life satisfaction. In contrast, rising female case numbers seemed to be a bigger factor. We also found that COVID-19 policy stringency had a greater impact on young Australians than older Australians, and on those states and territories with multiple waves of infections, namely New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT.”  

Study co-author Associate Professor Ben Edwards said there was a clear connection between rising COVID-19 case numbers and lower life satisfaction.
Study co-author Associate Professor Ben Edwards said there was a clear connection between rising COVID-19 case numbers and lower life satisfaction. (Image: via Pixabay)

The study builds on the first comprehensive tracking of the strictness of lockdowns across Australia’s capital cities, states, and territories. Based on the Oxford Stringency Index, the study looked at government policy responses across Australia to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, including school, workplace, and public transport closures, cancellation of public events and restrictions on the size of gatherings, and restrictions on domestic and international travel, Professor Biddle said:

“Between January 2020 and August 2022, Melbourne recorded the strictest lockdown, scoring 94.44 on a scale of 100 in August 2021. Melbourne also had the second strictest lockdown, 90.74, recording this three times – in April 2020, August 2020, and October 2021.  

“Other cities, including Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, and Sydney, all had lockdowns that scored 90.74 for severity over the same period but not as frequently. Some states and territories also recorded the same score. What’s also clear is that since January 2022, lockdown measures across Australia have dramatically decreased in severity.”  

Associate Professor Edwards said the new ANU study added significant findings to earlier research by him and colleagues at Oxford University:  

“In that study, published in June and comparing policy responses across Australia, we found Victorians had to live under the most stringent COVID-19 responses. In addition, residents of the cities of Melbourne and Sydney, and to a lesser extent, the states of New South Wales and Victoria endured significantly more days living under stay-at-home orders, remote learning, and workplace closures compared with all other Australian cities, states, and territories. However, we also found Victorians were less compliant compared to those in other jurisdictions with less stringent policy settings.”  

Provided by the Australian National University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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