Research Technology — 18 August 2017
Casual baby watching attentive a mobile phone Photo credit: The Australian

Casual baby watching attentive a mobile phone Photo credit: The Australian

As winter drags on, it is easy to become isolated and alone. With so much conflict in society, it is understandable if you want to retreat into yourself, maybe find shelter from all the threats of nuclear war. For some, cuddling up with a good friend or a good book is an enriching, revitalising experience, but for others that is not an opportunity they are willing or able to take up. Sunlight and fresh air are good for your mood, as are exercise and new experiences, and in winter you simply have to try harder to put yourself in a positive environment. If you are huddled up somewhere, trying to stay warm, maybe think of your family, your friends, even those outside your network, and how you may strengthen relationships to foster good mental health more broadly. Think about your place in society, and where you would like to see yourself. Think about the good times. Sometimes it is worth making an effort.

Smartphones and social media may keep us switched on, and more connected, but the impact on relationships can vary greatly. “Recent studies show that we check our phones between 85 and 130 times a day, sometimes much more,” says Andrew Campbell, a cyber-psychology expert from the University of Sydney. “Almost all Australian teenagers, two-thirds of primary school aged children and one-third of preschoolers now own their own tablet or smartphone. With this, there is a risk of a growing ‘digital zombie’ generation — that is, being connected online all the time but never really living a full and healthy life that is disconnected from the digital world.” Looking for the right balance in our online and offline lives is not just a challenge for young people either. A survey conducted this year for aged-care company Whiddon found 82 per cent of Australians over 65 used the internet and social media on a daily basis. Interestingly, those who logged on daily were less likely to report feelings of loneliness than those who did not (48 per cent compared with 59 per cent).

Being happy in and at work is a goal worth chasing, not only for employment and financial security but also your mental health. While certain tech companies offer ping-pong tables, buffet food and napping pods, for most people the workplace has remained unchanged for years. There, happiness depends more on relationships, workload, satisfaction and respect. Workplace psychologist George Mylonas says, in the right circumstances, remote work or telecommuting, already used by about one-quarter of Australian workers, could benefit both employers and employees. “The most significant benefit for employers is that remote work improves productivity because there are fewer distractions and employees are better able to concentrate,” Mylonas says. “Plus employees have enhanced autonomy and control over their work environment, including how they dress, lighting, temperature and background noise, which enhances job satisfaction. For employees, remote work provides more time to balance work and family responsibilities. What’s more, since workers are not subjected to direct face-to-face supervision, they experience increased feelings of freedom.”

As Australia prepares for a postal survey on same-sex marriage, research from the US shows that marriage equality legislation is associated with a reduced number of suicide attempts in adolescents. Young Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex experience higher rates of suicide than those who identify as heterosexual, and they also experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. A study published this year in the prestigious medical journal JAMA compared suicide attempts across public high schools in the 32 states that allowed same-sex marriage, before and after the laws were implemented. Those states with legalised same-sex marriage had a 7 per cent reduction in the proportion of high school students reporting a suicide attempt. “We know that marriage, regardless of the sexual orientation of the partners, is strongly associated with physical and mental health benefits and a lower suicide rate,” says Fiona Shand, senior researcher at the Black Dog Institute and the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention in Sydney.

This piece by Sean Parnell was first seen on ‘The Australian’ August 18, 2017.

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