Australians accessing family violence services, drug and alcohol counselling and support for day-to-day living during the peak of the pandemic were most likely to face barriers to accessing help, new survey data has found.
Migrants and people living in rural and regional areas were also more likely to face problems with accessing support.
An ANUpoll conducted in May asked 3219 respondents if they had accessed services in the last two months and if they had experienced barriers to accessing that help.
Associate director of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, professor Nicholas Biddle, said the most common barriers people faced were phone operators being busy, a lack of information on who to contact for help and a lack of available appointments.
"It's an extraordinary period and it's understandable that there are short term challenges to get access to services, but I also think that there's pretty strong evidence that the longer it takes to get help, the worse the effect is," he said.
The most common issues the sample group faced were health/medical (26.8 per cent) followed by mental health support (10.8 per cent).
The data revealed women were more likely to access all types of services, except for employment services. Women aged 35 to 44 were more than 50 percent more likely reach out for help than men in the same age group.
Professor Biddle said women generally had a greater need for support services outside the COVID-19 pandemic, such as domestic violence services, but there was evidence the crisis had a greater effect on women.
"The data lines up with other data that suggests there's been a high level of anxiety and worry for females, a greater decline in mental health outcomes for females, and as we've shown in other data, a larger increase in alcohol consumption for females," he said.
He said men were more likely to have continued looking for work, therefore needing employment services, while women were more likely to drop out of the labour market to take on caring responsibilities or because of a lack of confidence that they would get a job. Men in the younger and older age groups were less likely to access support services.
The researchers found identifying barriers faced in accessing services was important for preparing for future health crises but also in helping people to catch up on services they missed.
"We need to make sure these barriers don't continue into the future, but also potentially go back to those who have missed out and in a sense catch up on the services that were missed or to provide remedial support to cover the negative effects of a delay to access to services," professor Biddle said.
The data is available in the Australian Data Archive.