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Examining the short and long-term mental health consequences of the lockdown to contain Covid-19

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Associate Professor Danny Osborne & Professor Chris Sibley, University of Auckland School of Psychology

Researchers leading the 20-year New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, Associate Professor Danny Osborne and Professor Chris Sibley are undertaking an invaluable new research project utilising their 11 years of collected research data in a bid to understand the inevitable impact of social distancing on New Zealander’s mental health.

The project will require the collection and analysis of information from survey participants in the weeks and months of the current and upcoming stages of the Covid-19 Lockdown. Professor Sibley and A/Professor Osborne will combine these findings along with the information they have amassed in previous years, to create a study of the short and long term consequences of strict social distancing on peoples’ wellbeing.

Both researchers are not underestimating the importance of their work and its link to achieving AMRF’s mission.

“The current AMRF Covid-19 Project Grant will increase understanding of the mental health consequences of New Zealand’s unprecedented fight to eradicate Covid-19 from our shores. As such, our work will help to achieve the AMRF’s mission to improve the health and quality of New Zealanders’ lives by identifying the vulnerable populations who will need additional assistance during the lengthy battle against Covid-19,” Danny outlined.

“Because we will likely move between various levels of lockdown over the next 18 months (or longer), understanding the short- and long-term effects of strict social distancing measures on people’s mental wellbeing is essential for fostering healthy psychological functioning during our fight against the greatest pandemic in over a century.”

A/Professor Osborne and Professor Sibley’s primary aim is for their research to benefit all New Zealanders but also know that their research will make an important contribution to the global community’s battle against Covid-19.

“As a nation on the verge of successfully containing the first wave of Covid-19, the international community will likely turn to us for lessons on how to effectively slow the transmission of the virus. Part of this attention will involve questions over the side effects of our mitigation strategies, including the impact of New Zealand’s 4-week lockdown on the mental wellbeing of the nation.

“Our research will thus provide the international community with critical information on how New Zealanders’ coped while in lockdown so that they can tailor their own measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, as well as develop critical primary mental health interventions for vulnerable groups at the onset of future nationwide lockdowns,” stated the A/Professor who is also a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Auckland.

“Finally, the current research proposal advances the international literature on psychological responses to pandemics. Given that the onset of highly infectious diseases is unpredictable, longitudinal research that follows people before a pandemic emerges is exceptionally rare. By leveraging data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) collected before Covid-19 emerged and collecting new data in the weeks and year after New Zealand’s unprecedented lockdown, the current proposal has the unique ability to examine changes within the same people over time. Such insights will provide critical information about the impact of the pandemic on individuals themselves, while also revealing essential insights into how these processes unfold over time. Accordingly, the current proposal will place us at the forefront of the literature on the psychological effects of pandemics and help us to become global leaders in our research area.”

Professor Chris Sibley founded the the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) in 2009 and A/Professor Danny Osborne is a member of the Central Management Team of the Study. NZAVS is a longitudinal national study looking at the social attitudes, personality and health outcomes of approximately 20,000 New Zealanders per year and will run through until 2029.

The study aims to track changes in various social psychological and health factors over this twenty year period, providing information about how the personality, attitudes and values of New Zealanders may be changing over time. This is important to understand how peoples’ opinions, values and levels of satisfaction with their lives may change gradually over time, and perhaps also change rapidly in response to current events in society. Another key aim of the study is to examine how changes in attitudes and values may relate to changes in health and wellbeing over time. Because the annual survey uses repeat respondents, it can track subtle changes in attitudes and values over time, and is becoming an important tool for researchers.

AMRF have awarded Associate Professor Osborne and Professor Sibley $81,878 to complete their Covid-19 study.


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