South Australia – State of Mind (May 2020)

South Australians are becoming increasingly confident about what the future holds, whilst the constraining grip of uncertain financial security and poor mental health begins to ease. As restrictions to travel and the daily lives of South Australians open up, confidence has rebounded to levels not seen since November 2014. When COVID-19 hit in March and restrictions were introduced, many South Australians struggled with the new reality and uncertainty of the future. 

The clouds seem to be clearing in the minds of South Australians as the temperature drops and rain comes. Booked out restaurants and the June long weekend seeing our local tourism centres being busier than the Adelaide CBD. As the mood improves, and confidence will hopefully be maintained. Buoyant economies come from confident communities.

Below are key insights of a representative survey of 400 South Australian adults conducted from 26th of May to 1st of June 2020, as an improving COVID-19 situation presents changes and renewed optimism into our lives. Square Holes has conducted ongoing research since 2013 to track measures of confidence and perceived financial security. Square Holes has expanded the monitoring since March 2020 to explore the current state of mind of South Australian’s.

Confidence rises

According to Square Holes’ monthly mind and mood representative survey of 400 South Australians, 46% were confident looking towards the next 12 months at the end of May, following hitting a record low of 26% in March and slightly increasing to 33% in April. South Australians indicating they are unconfident in the next 12 months has rebounded to approximate pre-COVID-19 norms, dropping to 17% following a record high of 43% in March (27% increase from February) and 30% in April.

Worsening financial security eases

For many South Australians there is a positive attitude, with a dose of reality thrown in to keep things real. As a Square Holes research participant noted recently …

“I have absolutely nothing to complain about, life’s good.  No use complaining about being stuck at home being bored because of COVID.  Bored is better than dead.”

Square Holes Research Participant

Financial security in 12 months has also recovered since bottoming at a record low in March 2020. At the end of May, 26% indicated their financial security in 12 months will be better, and 23% worse. Most notably, those indicating they are anticipating their financial position to worsen in 12 months has settled back to normal levels since monitoring commenced in 2013 from a record high of 38% in March 2020 then 28% in April. 

Many feel that their financial position continues to be worse than 12 months ago, with a record of 38% in April, following 34% in March and seemingly starting to rebound in May to 29%. Those viewing their financial position as better compared with 12 months ago hit a record low in April of 18% in April, increasing slightly to 20%, but still below normal levels, in May. There is a sense that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on financial security. 

Mental health improves

A key learning from COVID-19 is the adaptability and resilience of South Australians at a community wide level. While many sub-groups of the community have likely being faced with increased stress from loss of work and other challenges, mental health and wellbeing at a community wide level has remained stable considering the unprecedented upheaval. 

At the end of May, 63% of South Australians indicated their mental health and wellbeing was about the same as 12 months ago. While generally consistent with the past two months, April and May did see a decline in those feeling ‘better’ compared with 12 months ago.

Two-thirds of South Australians anticipate that their mental health and wellbeing will be about the same in 12 months. Those expecting to feel worse in 12 months has improved in April and May as confidence towards the future grows, following the March drop.

It is pleasing to see measures of mental health improving since March, including a dramatic drop from March in South Australians ‘feeling tired out for no good reason.’

It is interesting to observe age differences, with a larger proportion of younger South Australians aged 18-34 indicating they are ‘feeling tired out for no good reason,’ than across other age groups. Cognitive overload of dealing with a world in chaos exists across age groups.

Similarly, some South Australians continue to feel everything is an effort and nervous most of the time or all of the time, with others less inclined to feel this way, particularly those aged 65 and over.

Many South Australians are fearful of a second wave, and while feeling confident, are yet to move forward without nervousness, as noted by a Square Holes research participant

“While there’s lots to look forward to, a cure or vaccine still isn’t in our hands. The spread of this virus is still real and could have a big impact. Another hit to the economy might be too much should a next time happen.”

Square Holes research participant

South Australians aged 65+ are in a more buoyant mood than other South Australians, reporting higher levels of positive financial and mental health. For South Australians aged 50+ their perceived mental health was stronger than their financial health, with 50-64 year olds having the highest proportion (33%) anticipating to be financially worse in 12 months.

Mood is positive

Mood is generally positive amongst South Australians, with 59% of respondents indicating feeling positive throughout the week. Feelings of positivity was highest amongst those aged 65+, 76%, and lowest in those aged 18 to 34, 51%

Personal and family tragedies, poor mental health and wellbeing, stress, isolation, financial burdens and work uncertainties have led to poor ratings of mood.

“8th week of unemployment”

“Suffer from depression and anxiety. Changes in my workplace over the last few weeks have caused unease”

Positive moods were boosted by interactions with friends and loved ones, easing restrictions/ returning to a sense of normality and an optimistic mindset along with an appreciation for personal health and wellbeing and the beauties of life.

“I had a great time with relatives at the weekend who are excellent with social distancing. I have caught up with some friends via phone and Facebook today”

“I’m doing what I love to do again and getting out and meeting with friends which I couldn’t a month ago”

“Restrictions are being lifted and the economy is showing some signs of recovery. My daughter got promoted in her job so her salary is looking promising”

“I am very happy with my life, my new relationship. And despite work being quite stressful I am grateful I have one

The sense of somewhat doom and gloom apparent in recent tracking measures appears to be easing, as South Australians embrace the improving COVID-19 situation, cherish time spent with family and friends, regain a sense of normality and look with optimism towards the months and years to come.

As the health fears of COVID-19 start to subside, economic fears and consumer caution may increase. As will be explored in next week’s mind and mood update, Square Holes’ research is illustrating South Australians rate the State as scoring well in food and drink, natural environment, sport, arts and culture, yet much lower for the economy and employment. It will be interesting to see the year ahead unfolds, and let us all hope for a renewed buoyant community confidence with all the economic benefits that this can bring.


Square Holes is seeking a small number of partners in the mind and mood research we have been conducting to help make sense of the impact on South Australians.

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