22 April 2020

Series of unfortunate events redefines wellbeing survey

| Michael Weaver
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Smoke on the water

How have events of this year changed you and your household? A survey is asking these questions and more. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

For most of us in the ACT, the events of the new decade have been life changing. And we’re only four months in.

The bushfires, a major hailstorm and now COVID-19 have also redefined how a team from the University of Canberra’s Health Research Institute has structured its Living Well in the ACT Region survey.

The researchers first conducted the survey late last year, just before the bushfires started. Now, they are asking thousands of people to take part in the survey again so they can track how their wellbeing and quality of life are changing given recent events.

One of the main aims of the survey is for researchers to understand how different events add up.

“We know some people have been affected by bushfires, then hail and now COVID-19, while others have not been affected so severely or at all,” Health Research Institute Associate Professor Jacki Schirmer told Region Media.

“To better support people’s wellbeing, we need to understand what we call ‘cumulative impacts’, where the effects of different events experienced simultaneously or in close succession combine to affect wellbeing in ways that they might not have if experienced separately,” she said.

UC’s Health Research Institute team is hoping for a strong sample of at least 4000 people from Canberra and the surrounding NSW areas to answer the survey.

There is also an incentive to win one of 13 prizes worth a total of $3,000. Prize winners will also be given the option of donating their prizes to those in need.

There is a long and a short version of the survey (for those who are still time poor), though Associate Professor Schirmer said both versions allow people to provide meaningful input on how their wellbeing has changed.

“A lot of the data we had collected was massively out of date only three to four months after we did our last survey,” she said.

“We always intended to repeat the survey every two years, but we’re coming back into the field earlier than intended because we need to track some of the groups we identified as being of concern.”

Associate Professor Schirmer said they had found young people in the Canberra region had particularly poor levels of social connection, while it took people who are new to Canberra about two years to find a social network.

“We need to find out who is now tracking okay and who is not after all the challenges we’ve experienced in the past few months. We know that parents with kids are already very time poor and are reporting psychological stress with how busy they are, even in the best of times. How are they going now when a lot of them are in two-job households and now the kids are home?

“And how are they going compared to younger people who are more likely to have social isolation issues that may bring on severe anxiety or depression? How are younger people going when they are most likely to have also lost the social contact from their jobs or income from casual employment?”

Participants can rest assured they won’t be asked to state their political preferences.

“We often hear these statements that the ACT has a fantastic quality of life, but we know that is not true for everyone and the smaller surveys don’t let us get a good handle on who is going well and where have we got people who are really struggling and need some better support,” Associate Professor Schirmer said.

“While we know a lot of people have higher than average incomes, there is an equal proportion who earn low incomes and struggle with the high costs of living here.”

Initial results from the survey are provided to the ACT Government so it can understand what groups may be vulnerable at the moment. Further results will be published in the second half of the year and all participants will be provided with a link to see the results of the survey.

Information is then used by community organisations and not-for-profit groups that rely on funding.

Results on how the region is faring are also collated with national and international wellbeing and quality of life surveys.

All people aged 18 and older living in the ACT and surrounding regions are invited to take part in the survey, which can be accessed on the Regional Wellbeing Survey team website. Or you can call the survey team on 1800 981 499 if you prefer to complete a survey on paper.

The survey is conducted by researchers from the University of Canberra, with funding from the Medical Research Future Fund. It closes on 4 May.

To take the University of Canberra Regional Wellbeing Survey, click here.

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