Broader focus on wellbeing needed to understand COVID-19 impacts

A narrow focus on mental health may prevent us from understanding the broader wellbeing impacts of COVID-19 in Aotearoa, Te Hiringa Mahara – the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission - has found in its first report on the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing.

“For people to flourish and experience good mental health and wellbeing, services and resources are important, but not enough.  People need to have their rights, dignity and tino rangatiratanga upheld; they need to feel valued and connected to their communities and their cultures; and they need skills, resilience, hope and purpose for the future,” says Dr. Filipo Katavake-McGrath, Te Hiringa Mahara Director of Wellbeing System Leadership and Insights.

“Just because these wellbeing dimensions are less tangible, does not mean that they are less influential in creating stress and distress. In fact, understanding the real impacts of the pandemic requires an understanding of these broader dimensions of wellbeing.”

For this report, Te Hiringa Mahara analysed more than 3000 media articles from the beginning of the pandemic to April 2022. Its analysis found that coverage tended to focus on the material resources and services that people had access to during that period of the pandemic, and the stresses that emerged when these were lacking and life was disrupted.

The analysis used a natural language processing algorithm to look at how we collectively talked about mental health and wellbeing during this period, and how this changed over the pandemic. The wellbeing analysis in the report also drew on the He Ara Oranga Wellbeing Outcomes Framework which describes the aspects of good wellbeing in Aotearoa, and guides the way Te Hiringa Mahara monitors the systems that influence these in our communities.

This media analysis highlighted gaps in the way we consider and have considered the impacts of the pandemic in Aotearoa.

“Media coverage during this time often focused on universal experiences of the pandemic. A sense of ‘we are all in this together’ may have been beneficial for rallying together a public health response, and for encouraging empathy, but we know that some communities experienced poorer wellbeing across a range of measures. If our understanding of peoples’ experience of wellbeing is monolithic, that we are all roughly the same, we miss the opportunity to understand and support greater wellbeing for different communities.

“News media plays an important role in Aotearoa, in shaping and reflecting the conversations of the nation. During the pandemic this role has been more important than ever – but when important dimensions of wellbeing are missing from our conversation, we are not sufficiently and appropriately considering the impacts of the pandemic on people in Aotearoa, and not necessarily focusing on the right solutions.”

This report is the first of a short series of focused reports Te Hiringa Mahara will produce over the coming year.

“We hope to use these reports and their findings to contribute to our collective understanding of the impacts of the pandemic on wellbeing and on different parts of Aotearoa and what can be done to address these gaps.”

View the report