'Over it': Covid-weary Kiwis more anxious, angry

Mental health experts are reporting an increase in the number of people accessing online services...
Mental health experts are reporting an increase in the number of people accessing online services or seeking help and advice. Photo: Getty
People are feeling more anxious and angry during the second Covid-19 lockdown than any other time since the pandemic started, according to new social media analysis.

The sense of community New Zealand felt during the first lockdown in March appears to have somewhat dissolved amid growing frustration and despair, suggests the new research by business consultancy Rutherford.

The number of people encouraging others to comply with lockdown rules, by sharing messages such as #stayhomesavelives, has dived by more than 50 percent, the research shows.

Some mental health experts are also reporting an increase in the number of people accessing online services or seeking help and advice as the stress of the country moving into higher alert levels takes its toll.

The analysis comes as Finance Minister Grant Robertson says the financial help remains for businesses - 30,000 firms have taken up the two-week resurgence wage subsidy, totalling $108 million, he says.

"We took the call to get that out as quickly as possible," Robertson told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today.

"We have had 22 weeks worth of support for businesses through the wage subsidy scheme, about 12 and a half of which - if you're in Auckland - would have been at levels 2 and 1 ... when trading was good.

"This is a tough time for everybody, I absolutely accept that. I think if you look at that level of support, it has been significant."

He said he did not under-estimate how tough businesses were finding the return to lockdown.

"This is level 3 ... you have got probably 80 percent operating at the level they want to, but 20 percent not. It's tough for that group but there is a huge amount of support and that funding is available right now."

Graphic: NZ Herald
Graphic: NZ Herald
A company with 40 fulltime staff and who met the criteria around lost trading could receive around $46,000 for the two-week extension.

The Covid income relief payment scheme was also open for application until the end of October for people who have lost their jobs.

Rutherford analysed about 435,318 social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram from the past two weeks to get a snapshot of how New Zealanders were feeling about Covid-19.

It categorised the comments under a range of different markers.

Encouraging messages for New Zealand's "team of 5 million" had instead been replaced with complacency and people feeling "over it".

Rutherford head of insights and experimentation Dr Gregg Franco said there appeared to be more ambivalence and fewer people bandying together hashtags such as #stayhomesavelives.

Instead, people were either taking the fight or flight approach where they were angry about the situation or believed they wouldn't catch the virus so carried on as normal.

Auckland is currently in level 3 lockdown after a new outbreak of the virus was detected more than two weeks ago following more than 100 days without community transmission.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended the lockdown until 11.59pm on Sunday, when Auckland will join the rest of the country at level 2.

Rutherford chief executive Graham Ritchie. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
Rutherford chief executive Graham Ritchie. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
Rutherford chief executive Graham Ritchie said not only had the volume of social media conversation around Covid-19 increased, but negative sentiment was up 10 percent. It was also more heightened and toxic as people vented their frustration at further restrictions.

There had been a 7 percent increase in sadness and 8 percent drop in optimism.

Ritchie said people were becoming more critical and there was an undercurrent of electioneering fuelling that.

Earlier this week Ardern acknowledged that the second round of level 3 had been tough for some and a reminder that Covid-19 was ever present in the world.

"It is a hard reality to accept," she said.

She also sought to reassure people that New Zealand wouldn't necessarily go into lockdown every time a new cluster emerged, but the tail of the latest cluster would be long.

Victoria University of Wellington clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland said the increased negativity could be due to disappointment that the country hadn't beaten Covid-19 as originally thought.

People often became irritable and looked for someone to blame and this was probably exasperated by the fact it was election year and politicians were trying to hold people to account, he said.

Sutherland also said the best way of dealing with anxiety was to find tools to cope with it instead of being reassured everything would be okay.

"You can't control Covid, you can't control whether Covid is in the community or out of the community but you can control whether you wear a face mask and practise good hygiene and practise social distancing. And that ability to actively cope with if you're feeling worried is much more beneficial than people being reassured."

Mental health advocacy group Changing Minds chief executive Taimi Allan said the heightened anxiety people were experiencing this lockdown differed from the first when people were panicked and worrying they weren't prepared.

"We have kind of lost our innocence a little bit in the second lockdown."

People were now experiencing a fear of the unknown and were anxious about the future.

"It's perfectly normal to be going through this right now."

People should be kind to themselves and acknowledge this collective trauma was normal and it was okay not to be okay, she said.

Auckland hypnotherapist Richard Kellow had also seen an increase in enquiries this lockdown from people who were more anxious about the current alert levels.

Kellow said people were feeling lonely and there was a sense of failure, lack of security and uncertainty about what the future may hold.

Anxiety New Zealand chief executive Sarah Woollard said there had been an increase in calls to its helplines in March which had remained steady since.

It was a good sign that people were taking action and reaching out for support.

A recent Anxiety NZ survey showed 25 percent of people were feeling less anxious because they were at home and could engage in self-care, while 45 percent were feeling more stressed.

Woollard encouraged people to focus on daily activities to keep them well such as chatting to a friend, going for a walk and eating healthy food to help build resilience.

"It's totally normal to be a bit worried and a bit uncertain because there's a lot going on."

Overall there was also more negativity about the country's economic future compared with when the last analysis was carried out in April.

Where to get help:

1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE).
Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234
Samaritans 0800 726 666
Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY / 0800 269 4389