Covid 19 coronavirus: Fears for south Aucklanders’ mental health amid third lockdown

South Aucklanders already struggling to feed their families could be hit hard by the stresses of a third Covid-19 lockdown, a prominent Māori leader says.

Manukau Urban Maori Authority (MUMA) chairman Bernie O’Donnell said since the first lockdown in 2020, the organisation has been busy helping families in south Auckland via its food bank and social services.

O’Donnell, who is also a member of the Auckland District Health Board, said most people have been focused on feeding their families and putting a roof over their heads.

“But it’s the issues we don’t see, like how our psyches are impacted by this,” he said.

His first response on Sunday, when the Government announced Auckland was going into an alert level 3 lockdown, was to say “not again”.

“If it has that impact on me, imagine what it’s like for those who are struggling?”

Auckland Council economic development agency Ateed released its Prosperity Index in November 2020.

It found south Auckland was continuing to struggle economically. Its residents often have low paying, low skilled jobs and also experienced higher rates of benefit dependency and unemployment than the general population.

O’Donnell said the working poor have been hit hard by the economic effects of Covid-19.

“We’ve got families that are all working just to live and if they’ve got a house they’ve got 10 people living in it.”

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said he shares O’Donnell’s concerns.

“It’s very clear from our experience in 2020 with the lockdowns and shocks and the disruption of job losses have had an impact on mental health and emotional and mental wellbeing.”

The relationship between lower incomes and poorer mental wellbeing has been well studied, Robinson said.

“It’s bad enough to lose your job to Covid-19, but it’s really bad if it pushes your family into poverty and affects your mental wellbeing and causes a downward spiral.

“There will be a lot of families in South Auckland who have been pushed into that lower income bracket.”

He said south Auckland’s Māori, Pasifika and Asian communities have also had to deal with stigma and racism directed at them due to Covid-19.

“What we saw in 2020 was for people already struggling with their mental health and the lockdowns pushed some people into a worse space mentally.”

He said during lockdowns it is important people look out for one another and keep in contact with family and friends, as well as exercise and eat well.

“The science shows they are vitally important for our wellbeing.”

University of Auckland associate professor of psychology Danny Osborne said O’Donnell had legitimate concerns.

“Mental wellbeing is something we should be concerned about,” he said.

Osborne was involved in research in 2020 as part of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study.

It surveyed 1000 New Zealanders during the first two weeks of level 4 lockdown. The results were then compared to a pre-lockdown control group who had answered the same questions in late 2019.

Osborne said the factors that triggered increased psychological distress are things most people could relate to.

“There’s the stress of parenting issues and homeschooling your kids and balancing work-life demands.”

But Osborne said the study didn’t find any evidence of any enduring long-term effects on the mental health of the people who took part in the research.

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