Report to coincide with the launch of Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing - powered by AIA Vitality
Melbourne, 1 March 2022 – A new report released by leading life, health and wellbeing insurer AIA Australia has revealed the effects that extended lockdowns and associated reduced social connection have had on Australians' mental health.
In the report, AIA Australia aims to understand the role of 'social connection' - the experience of feeling close and a sense of belongingness with others – as a driver of mental wellbeing. Titled The Power of Social Connection, the paper addresses the systemic impacts on mental health caused by the unprecedented living and working conditions experienced by Australians over the past 24 months.
Prior to 2020, mental disorders were leading causes of the global health burden, with depressive and anxiety disorders being the major contributors.1 COVID-19 has exacerbated this, with the number of people living with depressive and anxiety disorders increasing by more than a quarter in 2020 alone.
Inevitably, COVID-19 radically altered the daily life and working conditions of Australians by increasing job insecurity, financial strain, and isolation, amplifying the already significant demand for mental health services, products, and solutions.2 Since the start of the pandemic, 61 per cent of Australians have taken actions to manage their mental health with around 612,000 accessing support via phone or digital technologies.3
According to the insurer, social relationships can affect a wide range of health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, general health habits, and mortality risks. Studies have startlingly suggested that a lack of social connection can cause more damage to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.4
AIA Australia CEO and Managing Director, Damien Mu, said thriving communities generate a natural sense of belonging between people, and that the unprecedented restrictions enforced during the pandemic had fundamentally impacted social connection opportunities during this period.
"The daily lives of Australians have changed significantly over the last two years. Extended periods of lockdown, remote working and education have increased feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety," said Mr Mu.
"The purpose of AIA Australia's new The Power of Social Connection report is to progress the conversation around the mental health challenges facing Australians. We hope that increased dialogue about these issues and increased awareness of the importance of preventative measures, will lead to improved health outcomes that enable people to live healthier, longer, better lives."
Regular connection to friendship and family networks is shown in the report to be key to alleviating psychological distress. The report also highlights that women who see friends and family at least once a week are ten per cent less likely to be in psychological distress than those who see them only every three months, or less frequently. Similar results were uncovered in men, who are eight per cent less likely to experience psychological distress when maintaining regular social connections with others.5
AIA Australia has utilised these latest findings to inform and underpin its new initiative with the St Kilda Football Club, funding and co-launching the new Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing – Powered by AIA Vitality, as part of its commitment to the improvement of the community's mental health.
When asked about the launch of the new centre, St Kilda Football Club's CEO, Matt Finnis, said "All of the facilities and programs at the Danny Frawley Centre are provided to our players, coaches and staff (past and present) but also to our community – and that is what Spud as the great connector of people from all walks of life would have demanded of us.
"We hope the Danny Frawley Centre can help progress the conversation and focus towards mental health as a means of promoting a thriving community.
"AIA Australia has also been crucial in getting us to this point and we look forward to continuing our partnership as the Danny Frawley Centre grows."
Mr Mu added, "The Danny Frawley Centre for Health and Wellbeing is a beacon of hope for the St Kilda community and will be a place where people can create a sense of belonging and see their physical and mental wellbeing flourish. AIA Australia is proud to be involved in the centre and looks forward to hearing the positive stories that will come from it."
AIA Australia is a passionate advocate for prevention and early intervention measures that support the health of Australians. In its 5590+ report published in 2021, AIA highlighted the increasing evidence of the impact of mental health conditions on Australia's health statistics, with depression being the leading cause of disability worldwide.
The key messages from The Power of Social Connection and 5590+ research align with those of the insurer's science-backed health and wellbeing program AIA Vitality, which incentivises people to focus on four core elements of their wellbeing; physical activity (Move Well), nutrition (Eat Well), mental wellbeing (Think Well) and preventive measures (Plan Well).
AIA Australia's The Power of Social Connection report can be viewed at: https://www.aia.com.au/en/individual/about-aia/media-centre.html