Pandemic’s impact on individual health and wellbeing is taking its toll
UOW study reveals the affect social determinants have on wellbeing in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic
A national study from the University of Wollongong (UOW) has explored the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the lives of Australians.
The research examined the relationship between wellbeing and social determinants of health, such as gender, housing, food supply, income, social support, and access to healthcare, among Australian adults during the pandemic.
The results of the study found that almost one third of respondents were housing insecure, almost 60 per cent had difficulty accessing healthcare, almost 40 per cent reported poor social support, and over 20 percent identified as being food insecure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, published in Health & Social Care in the Community, reveals important insights into the social vulnerabilities that have been exacerbated because of the pandemic.
Co-authored by UOW PhD candidate Heidi Green and Professor Ritin Fernandez, both from UOW’s School of Nursing and the Centre for Research in Nursing and Health at St George Hospital, and Associate Professor Catherine MacPhail from UOW’s School of Health and Society, the research shows that social determinants affect an individual’s overall wellbeing and capacity to cope during a crisis.
“This study demonstrates that those with poor social support, difficulty accessing health care, insecure housing and food uncertainty had significantly poorer wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms Green.
The study examined 1,211 responses to an online survey, between August and October 2020, from Australians aged 18 and over and from a broad socioeconomic cross-section.
The survey found that approximately a third of participants were found to be housing insecure during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the main economic challenges was the ability for people to pay for housing, primarily due to substantial job losses and economic downturn.
“Food and housing are a basic human right and no person should have to live without these essentials,” said Ms Green.
“This study showed that food insecurity across Australia during the pandemic was 22 per cent, this is alarming especially since evidence shows it was between five to 10 per cent prior to the pandemic.
“It reinforces that even in countries like Australia, where we are believed to be living in an egalitarian society, that food and housing security is an issue. It was an issue before the pandemic and the pandemic has only exacerbated it.”
Having access to healthcare is central to reducing health inequalities, however the study found that 60 per cent of people had difficulty accessing healthcare during the pandemic.
“Although Australia is lucky in that we have Medicare, more needs to be done to address the undersupply of healthcare in regional and rural Australia where people can't get access to a GP because their 'books are closed', or they need urgent medical attention and can't be seen by a GP in a timely manner,” said Ms Green.
Social support has been identified as an important factor to overcome the stress and anxiety. However, the research highlighted that almost 40 per cent of people had poor social support during the pandemic in Australia.
The report found, people who were housing secure, had incomes greater than $50,000, had postgraduate education, were employed, had strong social support and were food secure during the pandemic had significantly higher wellbeing than their counterparts. Men also had higher wellbeing compared to women, transgender and non-binary people.
The research highlights the need for action to address the social determinants of health and inequalities. The researchers are calling for changes to address these issues.
“Exploring these impacts can mean we have an understanding and knowledge to be able to find solutions to making it easier for communities, families and individuals,” said Ms Green.
“It is hoped that the results of this study will inform changes to policies and practices and assist in further pandemic and disaster planning preparedness.”
ABOUT THE RESEARCH
“Well-being and social determinants of health among Australian adults: A national cross-sectional study” by Heidi Green, Ritin Fernandez, Catherine MacPhail is published in Health & Social Care in the Community.