Emotional awareness and social connection keys to mental wellness

KPMG

Smiling Mind and KPMG today launched The Australian Mental Wellbeing Index. Analysing and reporting on key factors contributing to positive mental health outcomes such as emotional awareness and regulation, focus & concentration, relationships & social connections, sleep, and stress. Unlike other mental health data sets, that primarily focus on measuring the diagnosed prevalence of mental illness, the new index collects insights on the factors contributing to mental wellbeing at weekly intervals, providing timely insights. The first report compares data captured from 2021 to 2022.

The Mental Wellbeing Index score for the first quarter of 2022 is 48.6 (out of a total of 100), 0.9 percent lower than the same period in 2021. The mental wellbeing of Australians has been consistently low over the previous 12 months. Key factors contributing to an overall low wellbeing score include a higher proportion of Australians experiencing challenges with stress (40 percent), focus and concentration (43 percent) and sleep (34 percent).

Index data was collected from a total of 226,103 Australian participants, who completed over 880,954 surveys. On average, there were approximately 8,700 participants completing 16,750 surveys weekly. Results show the following national trends:

  • 29 percent of respondents reported poor overall wellbeing
  • 39 percent of respondents experienced positive emotional awareness
  • 33 percent of respondents experienced positive relationships & social connections
  • 43 percent of respondents reported difficulty with focus & concentration
  • 34 percent of respondents indicated difficulty with or lack of sleep

The index shows Australians have experienced a decline in their social connections, compared to the previous year. This could indicate Australians may be becoming more isolated and less connected with their social networks, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Australian’s level of emotional awareness has been consistently high, it has dropped in the last year. This trend indicates that Australians may be paying less attention to their emotions than during the periods of time where lockdowns were most significant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smiling Mind’s CEO, Dr Addie Wootten said, “The Australian Mental Wellbeing Index shines a light on the factors that contribute to mental wellbeing. While it is evident that Australian’s mental wellbeing has remained relatively low over the past 12 months it is promising to see the large number of Australian’s seeking out tools and strategies to proactively support their mental wellbeing, as evidenced by the significant demand we have seen for programs such as those Smiling Mind offers.

Emotional awareness appears to be a key factor in supporting mental wellbeing and we hope that as we return to our new normal, we can support Australians to continue to pay attention to their emotions and take proactive steps to support their mental health and wellbeing.”

The index revealed the mental wellbeing of Australians has been low across all states. This finding is not surprising given Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia have all experienced various COVID-19 lockdowns throughout the last two years. Another consistency between states was that the mental wellbeing of Australians falls from June to September across most states.

KPMG Mental Health Advisory Lead, Andrew Dempster said, “What we can see through the data is a there’s a real seasonality to people’s wellbeing. We see lulls around the Christmas and New Year period, and also during colder weather in winter.

We also saw COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions impact people’s levels of stress and social connection across Australia, but we’re seeing a rebound with more positive mental wellbeing being recorded now that lockdowns have been lifted.”

State by state mental wellbeing snapshot*

  • NSW In New South Wales mental wellbeing has generally been lower which could indicate the impact of the mid-June 2021 COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, where clusters developed across the state and a lockdown was imposed until October.
  • Victoria Mental wellbeing in Victoria has fluctuated over time, with no clear trends emerging over the past few years. But there appears to be a sharp fall in index from June to September in both years, suggesting that the everyday mental wellbeing of Victorians may be impacted by the colder months of winter
  • Queensland Changes in the index have been consistent across the past two years, suggesting that Queenslanders are resilient, and their mental wellbeing may not have been considerably impacted by the recent floods which devastated parts of state during early 2022.
  • South Australia The index for South Australia has been consistently low and appears to be declining over the past year from June 2021. This decline may be due to COVID-19 restrictions which were reintroduced in mid-2021 with a snap lockdown on 20th July 2021 after new cases were identified in the state.
  • WA In Western Australia mental wellbeing has been relatively high, when compared to the other states. This could be explained by Western Australia having fewer COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns than other states.

*Only states with a large enough sample size have been included.

Actions to enhance mental wellbeing

We encourage Australians to consider the below strategies and approaches to support their everyday mental wellbeing:

  • Building emotional awareness skills: Noticing how you feel day-to-day is an important skill to support mental wellbeing.
  • Strengthening emotional regulation skills: Learning how to experience your emotions without feeling overwhelmed supports mental wellbeing – There are a range of strategies to support emotional regulation such as mindfulness, reframing thought patterns, talking with a trusted person, relaxation exercises and physical exercise.
  • Increasing focus and concentration skills: Enhancing your ability to focus and concentrate supports mental wellbeing and reduces mental overload and distraction. Try reducing your multi-tasking, limiting exposure to screens and devices, engaging in passion activities that lead to flow states (art, music, sport), and attention training strategies (meditation).
  • Maintaining strong relationships and social connections: Building meaningful relationships and fostering connection is important for mental wellbeing. The strength of your connections is more important than the number, try proactively working on one or two of your close relationships by finding a shared interest or catching up more regularly.
  • Improving sleep quality: Sleep is fundamental to mental wellbeing and there are many strategies that can support good sleep outcomes. Reducing caffeine, screen time and activating foods in the hours leading up to sleep is important as well as ensuring you manage stress and engage in physical exercise.
  • Reducing stress: Stress is a major contributor to poor mental wellbeing. Many of the strategies listed above will also support you to reduce stress. You can also try strategies such as regulating your breathing and calming your thinking patterns, learning how to prioritise tasks and celebrate achievements.

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