Coronavirus: Report warns that long-term COVID-19 impacts could create 'sense of winners and losers' among struggling Kiwis

The impacts of COVID-19 to our country's mental health and wellbeing are set to be long-lasting, according to a new report. 

Rather than affect everyone equally, however, those already disadvantaged and facing socioeconomic challenges are set to suffer the worst.

The Future is Now, a discussion paper written by Sir Peter Gluckman and Dr Anne Bardsley, looks at many of the issues set to face New Zealand over the coming months and years in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sir Peter is the former chief science advisor to the Prime Minister and director of the independent think tank The Centre for Informed Futures. Dr Bardsley is the centre's deputy director.

The paper urges "urgent reflection" on a number of societal, economic and geostrategic issues that already face the country but are set to be accelerated by the pandemic. 

Many of the issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak "will test our resilience, cohesion and societal wellbeing", but they also bring the opportunity to address a number of things that the country "would have had to confront in coming decades anyway", the authors write.

Those most at risk of feeling the worst of the pandemic's impact are communities already disadvantaged and socioeconomically deprived.

"Unemployment, housing issues, dealing with the winter ills all disproportionately affect Māori and other marginalised communities," the report states.

"At a more immediate level, as the lockdown proceeds, the high rates of family violence will rise further. The deeper issues around this issue continue to be avoided and need to be addressed. Lockdown decreases the number of 'societal eyes' in play."

The authors estimate that around 5-10 percent of those affected by the greater impacts of COVID-19 are likely to have prolonged post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with that number set to rise even higher over time.

"As the recession deepens, this number may grow. Already we have very high rates of mental health morbidity in young people and issues of acting out, depression, anxiety, and suicidality will grow."

The report stated that there was a risk that social cohesion could be lost as time goes on, as the initial response to the outbreak shifts and is replaced by anger and a "sense of winners and losers".

If social cohesion is lost it will be difficult to restore, the authors write. 

"The cohesion we see now in the immediate response may be replaced by anger, frustration, depression, anxiety and sad human stories. Depending on the road ahead, it may be difficult to sustain social harmony between the employed and the unemployed and across generations."

If the country hopes to avoid this, it requires partisan political leadership and a "collective effort which is broadly based, transparent and credible, and forward looking".