SOC327 2017 Tut10 – Thu 1030

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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18 Comments

  1. Funding is important but if funding is not making a positive impact then how it is being dispersed/targeted needs to be reviewed. Throwing funds at something will not necessarily solve the issue on its own. It would seem obvious to make deeper, structural changes to our environments but again, the examination needs to be properly funded and targeted.

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  2. if we wish to see a decline in the prevalence of anxiety and loneliness in modern society, we must reconfigure how we structure our communities and cities. as society becomes more individualized, going forward it is imperative that we make the effort to sustainably design environments where people can easily socialize and connect with one another – creating a space that fosters strong relationships, and community involvement and trust with minimal effort.
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  3. The answer is structural; community events and mental health initiatives are simply band-aid fixes. Time, or lack thereof, is the reason why people are so lonely; time has become a commodity and we have little of it outside of work and family commitments. We are all ‘time poor’ and struggle to achieve ‘work-life balance’. My brother and sister-in-law both work full-time and my niece is in daycare 5 days a week. I see how miserable they are – they complain that they have no friends, have no time to make friends and don’t necessarily want to socialise with workmates in their own time. And reduced work hours and increased pay seems highly unlikely!! Perhaps workplaces that incorporate and encourage social activities and/or participate in community events (during work time). Here’s some food for thought http://for.tn/1ZKekdA.

  4. In order to minimise the issues of anxiety and loneliness, we need to spend time researching what exactly triggers these in the first place.
    Studies by Franklin found that relationship breakdowns, death of a loved one, geographical location of one of friend only accounted for less than half.
    Yes, location within a city could in fact be a contributor, but there is no way that factor could account for 55% of those studied for loneliness.

  5. Crowded cities increase competitiveness in relationship formation. Cities are fun & exciting, should we be too? #S327UOW17 #Tut10 #Thurs1030

    Sennett (2000) writes that “sameness stultifies the mind; diversity stimulates and expands it. The city can thus allow people to develop a richer, more complex sense of themselves”. The city may be viewed as fun and exciting, but could it be equally intimidating? Larger cities tend to be more alienating, as seen in the example of Tokyo (Maguire-Gillies 2016), suggesting that perhaps in regards to relationship formation ‘less is more’. Larger cities imply greater freedom and choice. The abundance of diversity and opportunity provided by the city may be viewed as the foundations of individuality. But does this conceptualisation of the city provide increased pressure towards the formation of a unique and individual identity, is the city-dweller afraid of being revealed as a ‘boring’ non-individual? ‘Flexible capitalism’ produces increased competitiveness and draws attention to the temporality of experience (Sennett 2000), how do the ethics of capitalism translate into relationships? Do increased populations provide an increased sense of social inadequacy and insecurity; and does our loneliness in fact stem from a fear of being revealed as an imposter in the ‘big city’, as someone who cannot fulfil the task of ‘best’ – most profitable – friend?

  6. I definitely agree with Andie that as society becomes more individualised, the effects this has on loneliness and anxiety in society is profound. I think while there are a multitude of complex factors which lead to anxiety and loneliness, one of the underlying causes is that human beings (who are innately social animals), are being pulled a part by structural changes that have been occurring in society, especially economic and technological change. According to George Monbiot (2016) who published an article in the Guardian titled “Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart”, he argues that ideology also plays a major role in this loneliness, as although our well-being is linked to the relationships we have with others, we are told everywhere in society that we will prosper through “competitive self-interest and extreme individualism”. This idea was also discussed in the article by Franklin (2012) where he argued that Australian’s are hesitant to enter into tightly bonded relationships and are more willing to terminate such relationships when these conflict with their highly individualised lifestyles. This highlights the fact that an understanding of the sociological factors behind loneliness and anxiety is so important in order to make informed structural changes that will make a difference.

  7. Loneliness and anxiety are definitely major issues today in our society and their affects are wide reaching. As anxiety is often felt as kind of a sheath emotion, where it can weaken or strengthen at certain times and in certain situations but remains constantly there in the background, performing normal day to day tasks can become tense and physically and psychologically draining. Loneliness can also affect different facets of daily life in a similar way where thought patterns and changes in self perception and esteem can not only result from feeling lonely but can also can perpetuate problems within relationships that already exist. This can be seen in romantic relationships where one person may become over dependent on the other when their social and emotional needs aren’t being met with with other relationships (ie. friendships). I myself have suffered from both anxiety and periods of deeply felt loneliness and find that these can throw you into a cycle of dissociation and disconnectedness, where you find yourself perpetuating these emotions through your social behaviours. Whilst I definitely believe that there has been an increase in instances of mental health issues, simply because we are talking about it where we didn’t before, I also believe there is a fundamental flaw in how we are structuring our lives and the goals we have set as a society that qualify us as having lived ‘successful’ lives. So whilst there needs to be more infrastructure built around mental health services, there also needs to be more expenditure put into social research that can help develop preventative measures. The only problem that arises is that in order to prevent these issues, we might as a society have to have a real hard look at how our capitalistic way of life is screwing us over, and not everyone is willing to change that.

  8. There’s value in funding campaigns to destigmatise mental illness, but I, too, think that the problem is structural. Bauman, quoted in Franklin (2012) notes the effect of the media and I agree that that separation can lead to communication problems (tone conveyance, etc) that can exacerbate loneliness and anxiety, as well as giving us the opportunity to be rejected from the comfort of our own homes, 24 hours a day.

    What is the solution? Healthy cities are a good start, where outdoor spaces and community activities are prioritised. Reintroducing those social centres where people can play sport and be part of their community could help.

  9. I would agree with Giddens and Bauman that late modernity has broken down connections and groups that were once perceived as an important aspect of life. The importance of keeping families connected and the old tradition of looking after aged family members seems to be very rare theses days. In a previous job in aged care, loneliness was experienced by many of my clients, especially by men. Having lost life time spouses, family members were too busy with their own lives or their children have moved to locations far away, there was a huge element of isolation for these clients, even though they lived in busy suburbs. After working in aged care, I agree with Franklin that loneliness is embedded in our modern society and I feel more needs to be done to support the elderly mental health wise.

  10. For real change to occur there needs to be a shift in the current structure of current society. By changing the structure, you change the thought processes around the situation or idea embedded into societal thought. There is also an important distinction between feeling along and being alone. Feeling alone carries a higher emotional toll and is a common occurrence for people today. It can also be linked to anxiety and disconnectedness from others. How we structure our life and what we place emphasis on as important in today’s society have impacted the emotional structure of loneliness. There needs to be renewed importance placed on social interactions in groups and connections. Funding and the DE stigmatisation of mental health disorders are not the final solution but do help in creating an environment where structural change can take place.

  11. Loneliness in modern society is a complex issue. In my opinion, mental health service initiatives are productive and necessary in a society riddled of anxiety and are not just a ‘band-aid’ solution. I only say this because I believe there is no other way to deal with this issue in a realistic sense. I tend to agree with Richard Sennett (2000) that capitalism is to blame.

    For me, there is a sense of helplessness in that anxiety, isolation and loneliness will never truly leave us until serious structural changes are made within our society. Clearly, capitalism has impacted our mental health and well-being. As Nadia states, “time has become a commodity,” and we are forced to spend most of our time working to survive in the materialistic world that surrounds us.

    The problem is, structural changes to our social, urban and media environments will not come. If they do, it will not be for some time. I say this even though Franklin (2012, pp. 25) says “more targeted policy developments will emerge in response to the social structural causes and biography of loneliness.” Forgetting politics and the real economics of the world, if somehow there was a utopia – a place in which we did not have to excessively work to provide for our families, I think the issue of loneliness would resolve itself.

  12. Structure of communities is key – if social ties and structures are both overlooked we are essentially living next to each other not with each other. I think it’s deeper than a funding issue and more of an awareness and intervention issue. Stanley (2010) and Simmel (1964) both suggest that it’s important to recognise that our social structures are increasingly gravitating towards virtual and physical is on a steep decline. As a direct result of this, we feel loneliness in a more more in a temporal way when the virtual isn’t accessible (i.e at night, on Christmas, on birthdays). I would think that loneliness starts as a geographical problem (lack of physical interaction) and ends up as a psychological issue if it’s left to linger.

  13. We need to put funds towards examining and recognising options to make structural changes to our social, urban and media environment. AS Anthony Jorm suggests, the major reason that people do not care about their mental health is people lack of knowledge of anxiety disorders and available treatments. Fund is needed to spread the knowledge throughout the society. This could be done by having mental health sessions at work place, schools, universities, media and etc. The importance of mental health and anxiety disorders should be known for the society, this can lead to people changing their lifestyle in order to reduce their daily stress and tension.
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  14. I think that while we do need a larger amount of financial support given towards mental health facilities and services, we also need to focus more on increasing education around mental health issues, as well as changing the way we engage with such issues socially. Deep structural changes would benefit people – in relation to the ways we use technology to connect and communicate, and the social environments in which we operate – yet this would be a difficult and long term change effort. As Adrian Franklin describes it as the “paradox of contemporary loneliness”, it is clear to see how challenging it would be for us as a society to change and improve how we connect, when we already have the tools to do so and yet it is failing in many ways.

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  15. I think we need to change how we see anxiety and other mental disorders. These “invisible” illnesses are destroying many lives, increasingly so with our social media culture where it is easy to put on a fake disposition for all to see in order to validate ourselves through ‘likes’. It is true that sometimes, the more people there are, the more alone you can feel – especially when you suffer a mental illness in silence. Franklin says that being alone is not just due to a lack of physical social reaction, the number of friends we have does not determine how ‘lonely’ we feel, but rather, the quality of those interactions. The modern Australian lifestyle (as many other Western cultures) relies on a sense of individuality, and if that individualised lifestyle comes under threat, it is easy for us to assume that pushing close relationships away is the best thing to do – and so some people do just that. The social media culture does what Simmel (1950, p. 414) was referring to when he said: “A life in boundless pursuit of pleasure makes one blasé because it agitates the nerves to their strongest reactivity for such a long time that they finally cease to react at all”. We become desensitised to our own feeling. This trend needs to be recognised and acted upon by policy in order to sustain health across our changing culture.

  16. Our lifestyles have become increasingly individualised and the way we structure our social life has also been impacted by this. The way in which we communicate has limitations on opening up to one another. Isolation and loneliness can allow mental health to take a turn for the worse. We do need more time invested into mental health research to help people out of these situations.

  17. More expenditure on mental health services may not be the right way to go about it, a better scheme would be a better allocation of funds. Throwing money at a mental health issue does not solve it as it can be such an individualised issue.

    Structural changes within our society would definitely be a good start, as changing the environment of an area that is shown to have a high level of mental health issues could further benefit those effected within the community.

    There is also still a need to further push awareness. The fact that most Australians do not recognise anxiety as a social issue (Jorm, 2015) is certainly not okay.

    To take a day off at work due to physical illness is common and not often stigmatised. To take the day off work due to a mental illness is often assessed under a completely different protocol.

  18. I believe if we want effective change we need to have structural change in our social, urban and media environments. We need to truly understand the issues so there can be an actual improvement and change. If that doesn’t happen I feel like we will continue to use quick fixes which don’t work in the long term.

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