Australia Getting Lonelier Survey Shows
27 September 2016 at 11:53 am
The majority of Australians feel lonely, according to a new survey.
The Loneliness Survey, released by national charity Lifeline Australia on Tuesday, revealed more than six out of 10 Australians “often feel lonely”.
Moreover, more than 80 per cent of the 3,100 people surveyed, believed society was becoming a lonelier place, even though 44.14 per cent of those were currently living with their spouse.
Lifeline Australia CEO Pete Shmigel told Pro Bono Australia News the survey highlighted the “lifesaving importance” of caring real-world relationships, as well as the need for whole communities to play a role in combating “Australia’s suicide emergency”.
“For a society that is more technologically connected than we have ever been, these results suggest we’re overlooking good old-fashioned care and compassion when it comes to our mental health and wellbeing,” Shmigel said.
“We have always had a significant proportion of our callers who talk about loneliness and talk about social isolation, and in some of their cases it is part of a crisis and in some of their cases it is part of a suicidal crisis, but over the last year in particular we’ve been kind of noticing, at least anecdotally on the lines, a little bit more of it and for example more mentions of loneliness together with social media.
“So that is why we decided to do the survey to get a finger on the pulse of the community, what is it thinking about loneliness, how does it experience loneliness, is there something more we should be doing as a service provider.”
The survey revealed that even though more people were increasingly feeling lonely, more than 70 per cent had never called Lifeline or a similar service.
Shmigel said society needed to send a message that there was help.
“Of the 60 per cent of respondents who said they ‘often felt lonely’, a large cohort lived with a partner and / or children. This is consistent with Lifeline data showing that, while a majority of callers (55 per cent) to our 13 11 14 crisis line live alone, often without strong support networks, there are many who feel unable or unwilling to seek help from loved ones in their own homes,” he said.
“We as a community need to be more mindful of how the people in our lives are coping, and send a strong message that no person in crisis should have to be alone – help is available.
“It shows me that because people still feel lonely in family contexts and feel lonely in friendship contexts and feel lonely in big rooms of people, that there are a couple of things at play here.
“One is that I think the pace of life is so intense at the moment, we’re spending something like 46 hours a week online alone, always on task, that it is possible to be lonely and not have the capacity to catch up even with the people who are closest to us, not to have those real and meaningful conversations because we’re always so busy and so hectic.
“The other aspect that I think we should note is I think loneliness is still stigmatised to some degree. It is hard to put your hand up and say ‘I’m lonely’, I think a lot of people would probably still think they would be judged for that kind of a statement.
“That’s the real opportunity here is to slow down, have the real conversations, give yourself a chance to pause and to centre and be mindful and connect in the real world in meaningful ways.
“It’s ok to ask for help around loneliness. Loneliness happens to a lot of us, it only gets risky, if you will, when it goes unaddressed, when we think it is permanent and then it can really erode our resilience and make us very susceptible to a lack of emotional wellbeing and even sometimes suicide, so put up your hand, it happens to a lot of us and it’s ok to talk about it.”
Shmigel said with recent R U OK? figures showing Australians spend an average of 46 hours of their weekly downtime looking at TVs and digital devices, the survey also sought to better understand whether digital relationships were positive substitutes for direct relationships with live humans.
Survey respondents were divided on whether it was a positive or negative influence in their lives, with 31.46 percent saying yes, to the question “do you feel more lonely when you use social media”, compared with 29.58 per cent who said no.
But Shmigel said while the findings were inconclusive, they “perhaps showed” that technology itself was neutral.
“I think it is a fascinating finding,” he said.
“And it is really representative of where we are at.
“Let’s reflect on the fact that the smartphone isn’t 10 years old, and that’s not a lot of time to understand what its benefits are and what it’s implications and impacts so I pose the question are we using smartphones smartly or are smartphones outsmarting us?
“So I think that that result kind of shows perhaps, this is one working theory, perhaps people who are already kind of connected and resilient perhaps they are using social media in a way that extends their current connections and friendships etc but perhaps for another group of people who aren’t as resilient who are perhaps more emotionally vulnerable it can accelerate that feeling of being alone and lonely.
“So if you have everybody on Facebook curating their profiles and showing you the latest holiday from Corfu and the nice BMW they’ve bought and you can say to yourself ‘am I the only unhappy person on Facebook’, or cyber bullying and pressure on young women around body image, so I think it cuts both ways and the challenge going forward is how do you use more of the digital for the good of the emotional.”
The results come just a day before new ABS data on suicide is expected to be released on Wednesday.
Previous figures showed suicide rates in Australia reached a 10-year-plus high in 2014 with 2,864 deaths, an increase of 13.5 per cent from the previous year.
Shmigel said the survey was timely in “starting a conversation” on the social factors that influence mental wellbeing including the impact of social media on loneliness.
“We don’t know if there is a direct correlation between what looks to be a rise in loneliness and a rise in the suicide statistics, noone would know that or indeed whether or not there is any single cause for the rise, in fact there will never be one cause. Suicide is an extremely complex phenomenon,” Shmigel said.
“But because the numbers are going up we do have to challenge the current narrative and we do have to question the causes and that means thinking more broadly not just for example about mental illness as a cause of suicide and sort of medical reasons for suicide but thinking about emotional factors like loneliness, and thinking about social factors like isolation and connection and economic restructures, and thinking about technological factors like spending a lot more time online. It is probably in some mix of those things that we can find better answers to create more suicide safe communities.”
Key findings from the survey were:
- 60 per cent of respondents said they often feel lonely
- 71.51 per cent of respondents had never called Lifeline or a similar service (27.97 per cent said they had)
- The top three living arrangements of those surveyed were: 21.55 per cent – lived with spouse or partner; 21.13 per cent – lived with only a spouse or partner; 19.58 per cent – lived alone
- 53.38 per cent said they have someone to confide in when they feel lonely (33.65 per cent felt they did not, 12.97 per cent were unsure / didn’t know)
- 82.50 per cent said that the feeling of loneliness is increasing in society.
If you or anyone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au