Do we improve mental health through more services, or restructuring our work, cities and social connections?

There has been intense investment in mental health resources and treatments over the last few decades in Australia. This includes the establishment of initiatives such as the Black Dog Institute, the headspace National Youth Mental Health Initiative (a good program, which I helped evaluate), and recently a multi-sector initiative aimed at ‘Creating Mentally health Workplaces’.

Despite these efforts, however, the expenditure on and costs of mental health issues continue to rise, and the prevalence of anxiety issues in our society remains high. Anthony Jorm, at the University of Melbourne, estimates that around 15% of Australians suffer from an anxiety disorder, but many Australians don’t understand these issues, can’t recognise the symptoms, and tend to dismiss them as ‘everyday worries’. This serves both to downplay the severity and impact of anxiety issues on the national psyche, but also – importantly – obscure the social basis to such emotions. A similar story applies to the experience of loneliness. As Adrian Franklin finds, loneliness is endemic in Australia.

There are numerous sociological explanations behind ingrained, or rising, anxiety and loneliness in our society. Certain groups are at greater risk of loneliness than others – older men for example – but sociologists such as Anthony Giddens and Zigmund Bauman point out the atomising affect of late modernity, where human relations become more individualised, and we become less invested in keeping our groups and connections together. And we are not helped by the way we structure our modern lives. Work is increasingly temporary and fractious, sending us off to all sorts of places, to work all sorts of hours, with increasing precarity. Our cities continue to sprawl into suburban ‘exopolises’, lacking natural social centres within which people can connect and socialise. And our media changes, becoming supposedly more ‘social’, but with uncertain consequences in terms of the exact impact it has on our face-to-face interaction.

The exact alchemy of factors that entrench anxiety and loneliness in modern society is unclear. However, the need to examine these factors sociologically is paramount. Do we need more expenditure on mental health services? Or is this just a Band-Aid solution? Do we instead need to examine, recognise, and cost options for making deeper, structural changes to our social, urban and media environments that impact our sense of sociability and security, and our feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness?

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Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, Tutorial 10, UOW.

5 Comments

  1. With 15% of young people in Australia suffering from an anxiety disorder, Tiller 2012, eventhough there are available access to psychological services and councillors, this obviously does not seem to be the one way answer and we need to delve into the root of the problem.

    The isolation in suburbs and cities because of the lack of community access to meet ups and parks, coffee shops, etc is also not the reason of mental disorders, but perhaps it is the lack of education on these issues and the lack of discussion on how eg your family member or friend is feeling today as in more open communication between the ones we love and care about. Instead of communicating by mobile phone media devices and being too busy. As the cities and suburbs are still going to be built and planned however without the public people’s opinion as this is sometimes out of my control it is important to deal with and adjust to the situation as best we can. Which is why i think it is significant for more education and communication to be learnt and spoken about to children as young as possible to prevent these statistics becoming higher in the future.

    As Anthony Giddens has said, in late modernity there has been a shift in tradition to the loss of trust in people replaced by belief in institutions which is a very concerning fact within society. Local businesses within a suburb should reach out as much as possible to people and there customers as well as offer to have customer friends and family gatherings meet ups, etc to ensure that people in the community are always aware that they have people around them who care, offer open communication to help the loneliness amongst people. I fully believe what Giddens has also said here, that a good upbringing and lots of therapy can produce generalized trust to make society function. But for those who dont have the luxury of having a good upbringing constant communication within schools as in teacher and students is a good start for those young people and more friendliness and open communication at all public amenities makes a difference.

    #S327UOW16 #TUT10 #mon1530

  2. There are plenty of mental health services in Australia. However, there is little understanding of the impact liquid modernity is having on individuals and their sense of belonging and bonding with others, especially in Australia. Today’s capitalist economies are producing people who are increasingly becoming connected to social media and therefore, disconnecting from real (face to face) social interactions. Combine that with a fast paced working environment in the city (not many permanent jobs available in the suburbs/rural areas) and we have individuals who are now feeling isolated and lonely. Manne (2016) explains that depression and anxiety are “the two dark companions of loneliness: the former is twice as common in those who live alone.” Although there are a lot of resources and help available for those who suffer from depression and anxiety, there is not much help out there for those who are feeling lonely.

    Both young and elderly are prone to feeling lonely, yet the current social structures that prevail in Australia do little to help such feelings. For those who live in the city and contribute to the success of large corporations, there is little help or assistance from the corporations that employ them. Sennett (2000) explains that corporations don’t contribute to society; they also don’t take responsibilities in the city in which they make profits. These companies should be made to have responsibilities for both their employees and for the city in which they are making profits so that individuals refrain from withdrawing into the private sphere. Furthermore, because jobs are no longer permanent, individuals are now prone to moving around, making it harder for them to establish permanent relationships. Franklin states that individuals are now avoiding creating social bonds that are binding because they fear the termination of that bond (2012, p. 13). We live in a culture of consumerism that deems everything disposable, including long-term relationships.

    It is quite evident that globalisation has had a negative impact on social institutions such as family life, friendships and partnerships (Franklin, 2012, p. 17). Just as there are resources and help for those who are suffering from depression and anxiety, there is a need for better information on loneliness. I agree with Sennett’s view that cities and organisations need to “combine family, work, ceremonial public spaces and more informal social spaces available” so that we can combat feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression (Sonnett, 2000). We need to de-stigmatise loneliness and encourage those suffering from it to speak out and ask for help. In order to allow them to do so, we need to start focusing on the relationships we have. We need to make time from our busy schedules, put down our phones and actually have face-to-face interactions with our family and friends who consist of both old and young. You never know, one of them may be feeling lonely, and perhaps you will be the one who is able to help them overcome this. All it takes is creating more awareness so that others understand.

    #S327UOW16 #Tut10 #Mon1530

    Franklin, A 2012, ‘Liquid Modernity and Loneliness in Australia’, Australian Journal of Social Issues, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 11-28.

    Manne, A 2016, ‘Loneliness in the age of freedom,’ The Monthly, viewed 15 May 2016, https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2007/may/1268884061/anne-manne/only-connect

    Sennett, R 2000, Cities without Care or Connection, New Statesman, viewed 9 May 2016, http://www.newstatesman.com/node/151415

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