COVID-19 has led to an elevated sense of threat to people’s livelihoods. Through social distancing, school closures, work layoffs, and a partial and mandatory lockdown to some – people from all walks of life are suddenly facing major disruptions to their lives, leaving a large chunk of individuals feeling anxious or worried about the outbreak and the trail of negative consequences that come with it.
As governments all over the world try to tackle this global emergency, we have teamed up with Richmond Foundation, Malta’s leading NGO in the provision of community services for persons with mental health issues, to carry out a series of public sentiment surveys and assess the toll that the novel coronavirus is taking on the national population’s mental well-being. The public sentiment surveys are intended to provide a snapshot of the mental health conditions across Malta and Gozo during different time intervals throughout the outbreak to identify what advice, support and help can be provided to the various segments of the general public during these difficult times. Here’s what we know so far.
The study digs deep into elements of perception, information, actions, activities and coping mechanisms taken by individuals to combat the virus. To do this, the survey covers a representative sample of 1064 people and takes into account various demographic factors including age, gender, region, education, occupation, household income and health status to better gauge how different situations are impacting mental health in Malta and Gozo. Here’s what we know so far.
The majority of people believe that the government in Malta is spreading the correct information and doing a good job of handling the COVID-19 outbreak. When asked to rate whether the government was spreading the correct information about the COVID-19 outbreak and how well they thought the government was handling the crisis, respondents rated the government’s actions with scores of 4.2 out of 5 on each count.
Out of 5 is the average score given by the vast majority when asked whether they believed that the government in Malta is doing a good job of handling the COVID-19 outbreak
Public Buses have been rated as one of the most high-risk locations for infection with a rating of 4.8 out of 5
When asked to rate specific places on the basis of whether respondents thought that they carry a risk of infection, interestingly enough we found out that some places such as hospitals, which under normal circumstances would be perceived as the most safe, are now amongst those feared as carrying high risks of infection and transmission. From a Likert scale of 1 to 5, 5 carrying the highest risk of infection, respondents gave an average rating of 4.2 to hospitals and 4.0 to their place of work with home believed to be the safest place with a rating of 1.9.
Information has become the new currency during this time of crisis – people everywhere are tuning into the various mediums and sources available and extracting whatever information they can so that they can take a proactive approach in combatting the disease. The study showed that the most popular medium/ platform from which people acquired information about the COVID-19 outbreak were online local news portals, followed by information obtained from public health officials, social media and local TV, among others. The large majority of respondents also indicated becoming increasingly worried the more information they acquired about the disease, with 81% declaring that the information they obtained somewhat to greatly increased their concern.
How are people responding to the virus?
We’ve all had to re-set our daily life the moment COVID-19 hit local shores – but what actions have people specifically been taking to avoid going out and getting sick? What have people been doing to prepare for the virus? The study shows that in the past week, over 90% of respondents have taken some form of proactive action to AVOID getting COVID-19 and at least 80% have done something to PREPARE for the disease. Interestingly, the least popular action undertaken to avoid getting sick was wearing a face mask.
Reported that that the more information they obtain about the COVID-19 disease, the more worrisome they become about the virus
High on the list of actions carried out to PREPARE for COVID-19 were: taking extra precaution to avoid tracking germs inside one’s home (80%), paying attention to symptoms (71%), disinfecting household items (67%) and shopping for extra cleaning products (55%) –showing that people have been closely following the advice and instructions of the authorities on how to minimise the risk of infection and transmission of the COVID-19 disease.
When asked about whether they had experienced certain changes in how they carried out their daily tasks, interestingly enough we found out that 81% of respondents were more worried about the health and safety of other family members and friends than their own well-being (64%), but less worried about that of the general community (45%). Lowest on the list of changes experienced as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak in the past week, was arranging alternative care for children or other family members (14%).
We’ve all reacted to the news of COVID-19 in some way or another and this reaction has led many of us to engage in certain activities such as avoiding travel and disinfecting households. When asked about the perceived appropriateness of certain activities done in response to the threat of COVID-19, results from the study showed that the vast majority of respondents believed avoiding public spaces (91%) and travel (96%), and disinfecting households items (75%) to be appropriate, with the remaining activities such as purchasing extra cleaning products, food, medical supplies and wearing a mask to be over-reactions to some extent or another.
Fears and concerns about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in a lot of people. In this part of the survey we wanted to understand how people are coping with COVID-19. When asked about what they have been doing to cope with concerns and fears they have about the disease, results from the study showed that a large proportion of people were more worried about their loved one’s physical and mental health, and the impact of COVID-19 on Malta as a nation, than they were about their own physical and mental well-being.
Feel socially isolated
When asked about how often they thought about the disease, from a Likert scale of 1 to 5 — 5 indicating constant thoughts about the disease, all of the respondents gave an average score rating of 3 or higher with those aged 16 to 24 reporting the lowest frequency. Respondents were also presented with a list of statements and were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 indicated this was not at all true and 5 indicated that the statement was true, how true or untrue certain statements were about them and the average scores were as follows: a score of 3.9 out of 5 to the daily routine being disrupted because of COVID-19, a score of 3.8 out of 5 to feelings of nervousness because of COVID-19 and a score of 3.6 out of 5 to considering COVID-19 to be a threat to one’s health. As indicated by the scores above, the public feels significant impacts of the virus on their lives, and similarly most indicated disagreement with the statement “I don’t really think I can get COVID-19″ (Score of 2.3 out of 5)
The constant feeling of threat can have a disruptive effect on our psychological response to ordinary interactions, leading us to behave in new and unexpected ways. In this section of the survey, we put this theory to test and measured how often people felt or behaved in a certain way over a period of a week. Of these, 1 out of 100 thought of self-harm or suicide, 47% reported feeling depressed most of the time and 48% reported that they did not feel like doing anything. Students and unemployed people were among the highest groups of individuals who reported having feelings of self-harm/suicide. We also found that people on the frontline of the crisis, particularly those employed in healthcare, public safety, national security and food and necessary goods were amongst those that reported feeling the most fearful.
When asked about how easy it is to find support, worryingly, 26% of respondents stated that they had no one that they could share their worries and fears with, with 3 in 10 reporting that it would be difficult for them to find someone who could give them advice if a family crisis were to arose. On the contrary, 9 out of 10 reported having someone they could call or seek help from when asked about whether they had someone they could turn to for help if they were sick.
Have no one to share their worries and fears with
The strict measures that have been taken by authorities to limit transmission has put impeding pressures on the lives of many people, with many having to get accustomed to new environments and ways of living and doing things. When asked what the hardest thing they had to deal with since the implementation of measures announced by the government because of the outbreak, 45% said that the hardest thing was staying away from other loved ones, followed by not being able to engage in activities that they normally enjoy to engage in (15%) and not being able to enjoy the outdoors (12%), among others. 72% of respondents believed that the current measures that have been implemented are adequate. Respondents were also asked to predict whether a total lock-down is to be expected in Malta on a scale of 1 to 5, where a score of 5 would indicate a very high likelihood of total lockdown, the average score was that of 3.78. When asked about how worried respondents would be about specific aspects tied to a nationwide lockdown, respondents reported feeling the most worried about the well-being of loved ones who do not live with them, followed by their own mental well-being and their financial situation.
We understand that mental health is vital for everyday life and that many people might be suffering and require help. We are thankful that so many respondents flocked to participate in this survey thus capturing a true pulse of Malta and Gozo. In this unprecedented situation, as business leaders, we must do all that we can to help. For this reason, our series of COVID-19 market research services are being offered to Richmond Foundation on a not-for-profit basis. We are doing this with love, with the objective that we create actionable insights that help Richmond Foundation offer relevant services to the community. The findings are public because we believe that the insights derived from this general population survey should be tapped by all stakeholders.
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