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Is everyone you know exhausted? This is why.

2023 is being dubbed the year of 'hyper fatigue'. It's a term that's attempting to capture the sweeping feeling of enervation driven by living in a current-COVID-19, current-cost-of-living crisis, pre-climate-collapse world. 

Hyper fatigue speaks to a slump in our collective wellbeing as the political, social, and economic environments around so many of us seem to be steadily sliding into an irreparable, catastrophic state.

Put simply, we all just seem to be very fucking tired because the world is quite bad.  

A new global market trends report from research company, Mintel, claims hyper-fatigue will be one of the biggest consumer trends of the year, saying that people are experiencing the after-effects of "uncertainty, stress, financial issues, and major life shifts". 

The Mintel report included a stress and wellbeing survey that found that 22 per cent of American consumers have experienced mental exhaustion and 20 per cent have experienced burnout in the past year. 

While it may be difficult to quantify hyper fatigue, there are indicators from mental health studies that allow us to gauge the hyper fatigue crisis – reports that let us read the room, so to speak. 

What's happening with our mental health after COVID-19? 

Scarlett Smout, a research program officer and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney's Matilda Centre, told Mamamia that the world is undeniably in the midst of a mental health crisis, with the aftershocks of the pandemic and the uncertainty of the future having broad and devastating effects on our wellbeing. 


Smout explains that, following major global events, mental health effects tend to be seen for years afterwards. 

"We know from previous economic crises around the world, such as the global financial crisis, the long tail impacts on mental health continue, long after the acute impacts of the crisis." 

Right now, a particular concern is how hard young people are being hit. 

"In the most recent National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, there were one in five Australians, aged 16 to 85, that experienced a mental disorder in the previous 12 months. When you narrowed that down to young people, those aged 16 to 24, this jumped to two in five Australians. So, yeah, those rates are really high," she says. 

Looking at that data, we can start to imagine the number of people hit by what Smout calls "subclinical symptoms of stress and burnout" because those people weren't even captured in that survey. 

"We're dealing with a pretty big crisis here – and these rates are markedly higher than they were in the last national survey that was conducted," she says. 

But it shouldn't be solely on us to address hyper fatigue. 

Australia's Mental Health Think Tank has identified financial distress, social disconnection, and shortfalls in the mental health system as the key drivers of the mental health crisis. 


Smout says that it's important to recognise these drivers because these are issues that require top-level government intervention – they're not things that we can necessarily address ourselves. 

"We often get bombarded with strategies that individuals should be implementing – you know, eat well, sleep, exercise... those types of things are really important but when there's a crisis of this scale, it's really important that we have policy change to address mental health impacts at a population level," Smout says. 

In a report suggesting solutions to Australia's youth mental health crisis, Australia's Mental Health Think Tank pointed to solutions that directly tackled drivers of the crisis. For example, the researchers called for increasing income support payments for people on youth allowance, JobSeeker, and AusStudy. Smout says that these are the kind of policy decisions that could lead to widespread improvements in the wellbeing of Australians. 

Evidence shows the payments that the support packages the government unrolled in 2020, like JobKeeper and the 'Coronavirus Supplement' had a buffering effect against the mental health impacts of the pandemic. 

Smout also says that when it comes to hyper fatigue, there are also government-led solutions that could span across all of society, not just improving small parts of life. 

"There's evidence that there are a lot of drivers of mental health that actually sit outside the regular kind of... health portfolio," she says. 


Smout says that Australia needs to take wellbeing seriously as part of the design across all policies, including housing, transport, and education, instead of just falling under the health portfolio of government. 

Other governments around the world have taken on strategies similar to this idea. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the government introduced what they call a 'Living Standards Framework' that forces MPs to consider how policies – all policies – impact people's wellbeing in the long term. 

In Australia, the Albanese government recently concluded public consultation on what they're dubbing the 'Measuring what matters' framework that could end up looking similar to New Zealand's approach. 

"[The government] is essentially at the stage right now of trying to work out what would be measured if something like this was to be rolled out. So, answering questions like 'How do we quantify wellbeing?' and 'How do we quantify social connection?'... So, the government is taking this seriously, which is excellent. But there's still a long way to go before we get to somewhere like Aeotearoa," Smout says. 

Elfy Scott is an executive editor at Mamamia. 

Image: Canva. 

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