One in three Australians say their mental health has suffered in the past 12 months, but a happy home has been found to significantly help wellbeing, according to new research released by IKEA.
The IKEA Life at Home Report, a global survey of almost 35,000 people conducted in June and July, revealed the vital role our homes have played in our lives during the pandemic.
In the study, 32 per cent of 1000 Australians interviewed said their mental health had taken a hit, while 42 per cent who felt more positive about their home in 2021 saw their mental wellbeing improve.
Relationships also featured heavily. While 42 per cent of people said their relationship with their immediate family had improved in the past 12 months, one in five reported some friendships had frayed.
“More people are turning to their friends and I think that’s supported some of their friendships, but they haven’t been talking to everybody,” said Christine Gough, home furnishing direction leader for IKEA Australia. “It’s a lot more quality over quantity.”
While urban life and commuting distances became less important, a third of people said living close to their friends and family had become more important.
And with our lives and homes upended during the pandemic, one in 10 Australian respondents said where they lived did not meet their wellbeing needs, with people now craving cleaner, greener spaces where they felt safe.
“How we functionally live at home – both practically and emotionally – has changed dramatically,” Gough said.
She said hybrid spaces were on the rise, with only 39 per cent of respondents feeling their needs were met for working or studying, socialising or entertaining at home.
“From a solution point of view, we need to say goodbye to those single functions that we have in our home, or even thinking about our homes as being single rooms for a single activity,” she said.
Another recent study by researchers at The University of Sydney also shows the huge role housing has played on our wellbeing during COVID-19.
The study surveyed about 2000 Australians from mid-to-late 2020 on the link between housing and mental health.
Marlee Bower, a researcher at the university’s Matilda Centre, said she was surprised at the level of impact that housing had.
“Overall we found that Australians that live in unaffordable, noisy housing, or housing that has less natural light, were significantly more likely to experience depression, anxiety and loneliness at clinical levels,” she said.
“And people living in a house with more major structural issues or defects like mould, or damp or plumbing issues were more likely to feel lonely.”
With respondents stuck at home during lockdowns, Dr Bower said that, for those bothered by regular noise – such as nearby construction work – there was an 18 per cent increase in the likelihood of anxiety and a 30 per cent higher risk of depression.
But the findings weren’t all bad. “People who lived in lovely big houses, lots of natural light and big gardens, really enjoyed that time and really enjoyed being able to do renovations and spend more time gardening.”
While the pandemic highlighted housing inequality, it also forced change for many, Dr Bower said. “A lot of people talked about having to move housing because they just couldn’t cope anymore.”
The importance of community connections featured in both reports.
“When we talked about Neighbour Day before COVID, it was about that rallying cry for people to not forget their local communities,” said Nick Tebbey, the national executive officer of Relationships Australia, which runs the annual event.
However, the pandemic had led to a “huge shift” in neighbourly bonds, he said.
“We were forced really to reconnect with our immediate neighbours, and that’s had some really positive results.”
Psychologist Kerry Howard said there was a critical link between psychological stability and our home environment when it came to improving our mental health and wellbeing.
“Our homes are an outward reflection of our inner feelings. We all know this as, when life is chaotic, our homes become messy and when we are highly anxious we often try and take control of our homes to help us to feel more stable.”
That includes staging a renovation to ignite a feeling of change, as many did during the initial lockdowns, she said.
Likewise, our growing reliance on our immediate neighbourhoods – whether we’ve embraced them, or would prefer to be somewhere closer to the things we want to access – would have affected people’s wellbeing, she said.
“Our ultimate need as human beings is for connection,” Ms Howard said, so any little bit of connection we’ve been able to facilitate can make us happier or improve our general wellbeing.