Rapid report 3: mental health symptoms, characteristics, and regional variation, for users of an Australian digital mental health service during the first 8 months of COVID-19

Lauren Staples*, Olav Nielssen, Rony Kayrouz, Shane Cross, Eyal Karin, Katie Ryan, Blake Dear, Nickolai Titov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Background: The MindSpot Clinic provides services to Australians with anxiety and depression. Routine data collection means that MindSpot has been able to monitor trends in mental health symptoms and service use prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and these have been reported in two earlier studies. This third study describes user characteristics and volumes in the first 8 months of COVID-19, including a comparison between users from states and territories with significantly different COVID-19 infection rates. Methods: We examined trends in demographics and symptoms for participants starting an online assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic, from March to October 2020. Participants from the state of Victoria (n = 4203), which experienced a significantly larger rate of COVID-19 infections relative to the rest of Australia, were compared to participants from the rest of Australia (n = 10,500). Results were also compared to a baseline “comparison period” prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Results: A total of 14,703 people started a mental health assessment with MindSpot between 19th March and 28th October 2020. We observed two peaks in service demand, one in the early weeks of the pandemic, and the second in August–September when COVID-19 transmission was high in Victoria. Mean symptom scores on standardised measures of distress (K-10), depression (PHQ-9) and anxiety (GAD-7) were lower during this second peak in service demand, but there were significantly higher levels of concern about COVID-19 in participants from Victoria, and a higher proportion of Victorian respondents reported that they had made significant changes in response to the pandemic. Many respondents reported changes to their mental health, such as increased feelings of worry. Most respondents reported implementing strategies to help manage the psychological impact of COVID-19, such as maintaining social connections and limiting exposure to news or social media. Conclusions: We did not observe increased levels of clinical anxiety or depression on standardised symptom measures. However, there were increases in service demand, and increased levels of concern and difficulties related to COVID-19, particularly in Victoria. Encouragingly, a significant proportion of participants have implemented coping strategies. These results continue to suggest that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 represent a normal response to an abnormal situation rather than an emerging mental health crisis. This distinction is important as we develop individually appropriate and proportional mental health system responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100378
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalInternet Interventions
Volume24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Crown Copyright © 2021 Published by Elsevier B.V. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • coronavirus
  • internet
  • mental health
  • anxiety
  • depression

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