Flinders University research finds Australians affected by COVID-19 international border closures are more likely to suffer from emotional distress | The standard

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People stranded in Australia and overseas due to the pandemic experienced ‘high or very high levels of psychological distress’ because they were unable to return home or to loved ones, according to new research conducted by Flinders University. The study, from the Orama Institute of South Australia, surveyed nearly 4,000 people living in and outside Australia. It revealed that 83.6% had been negatively affected by the border closures. Restrictions on international travel are set to ease further after nearly two years of lockdowns that left more than 60,000 Australians stranded overseas. Fewer than 500 Australians remain stranded overseas waiting to return to Australia, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Glen Simpson traveled to Vietnam for his wedding in March 2020 and decided to wait to return after the Australian government asked those who could to stay put to allow vulnerable Australians to return. After months of waiting, the price of flights and quarantine became too high to return and his wife’s Australian visa expired. He remains in Vietnam while his wife’s visa application is processed, away from his teenage son and mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in November 2020,’ he said. But the wait was too long: “Mom died last week. He hopes to return after the borders fully open, but said he “has pretty much given up hope of returning”. “Until probably two weeks ago it was very difficult to come back,” he said. The study, co-authored by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) Wellness and Resilience Centre, found that stories of distress like Mr Simpson’s were not uncommon. “The vast majority of participants said they were negatively affected by the restrictions and showed high or very high levels of psychological distress,” said Flinders University researcher Dr Kathina Ali. “Our findings indicate that respondents are affected equally whether they are in Australia or overseas.” Participants reported a variety of reasons for their deteriorating mental health, including: “One-fifth of respondents thought they needed help with mental health issues. Healthcare and mental health providers should be aware of this crisis and provide appropriate support options and practical strategies to mitigate the risk of further deterioration,” Dr. Ali said. IN OTHER NEWS: Aussie Expats Coming Home founder LJ Ferrara says Australians stranded abroad are experiencing “utter uncertainty and confusion” and many are developing “hyper-anxiety” about not to be able to return home. “The severity of the stress and anxiety disorders it causes is beyond [the] understanding of most people,” she said. “It’s interesting that a report has come out because the stress is permanent,” Ms Ferrara said. “It’s not short-term stress; people are going to have long-term implications of this.”


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