Loneliness NZ

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Small business owners feel lonely, says Business Mentors NZ chief executive

Review: Today Aimee Shaw reports in the NZ Herald that small business owners can be lonely, according to Craig Garner – the new chief executive of Business Mentors New Zealand.  According to their research, the top problem for 80% of small businesses is isolation.  Many small businesses in New Zealand are owner operator, with no staff.  There are no colleagues to bounce ideas off.

According to the Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson: “Connecting is particularly important for the wellbeing of small business owners who may feel isolated and lonely.  High or long term stress, isolation and loneliness will undoubtedly have negative impacts on mental wellbeing which may manifest as things like burnout, anxiety and depression.”

Feature photo: Business Mentors New Zealand works with some owners who are suicidal. Getty Images.

A story to dine in on: Kids who sit down for family dinners are healthier and smarter

Review: Today Ewan Sargent writes in the Sunday Star Times about the benefits of family dinners for children; although family dinners are decreasing across New Zealand.  The Dinners Make Families Survey commissioned by My Food Bag and the Sunday Star Times interviewed 521 children and 630 adults.  It found that we are eating together at home less often, primarily due to parents being too busy.  Whilst a generation ago three-quarters of children ate dinner with their parents each night, now only 51% do the same.  “We are letting this simple analogue mealtime face-to-face connection slip out of our lives,” Sargent wrote.  According to University of Auckland associate professors Dr Jennifer Utter and Dr Simon Denny, adolescents who frequently participate in family meals report better family relationsihps, better indicators of emotional wellbeing, and better eating behaviours.

According to Dr Simon Denny, those students who share family meals are healthier because, among other factors, they are less depressed and less likely to commit suicide.  According to professor Anne Fishel of Harvard Medical School, dinners are places where children can share positive experiences with parents – and “these small moments can gain momentum to create stronger connections away from the table.”  According to ToughLove New Zealand trainer Sytske Oldenburger, family dinners “really assists adolescents opening up communication channels.  It’s good for kids who may have shut down.”  Naturally, from a loneliness perspective, better family connection reduces the risk of child and adolescent loneliness.

Feature photo: Charlotte Martin and daughter Ava preparing dinner for the family. David White/Stuff.

Developing a performance-based Living Standards Dashboard

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Media release: Today Loneliness NZ provided its updated response to the New Zealand Treasury’s request for submissions on the independent report “Treasuring Living Standards Dashboard: Monitoring Intergenerational Wellbeing”, and its proposed Living Standards Dashboard.


The New Zealand Treasury is developing a world-leading framework for prioritising Government policy. Rather than Treasury focusing on a financial measure such as improving GDP per capita, the Treasury is developing the Living Standards Framework, which is based more broadly on improving current and future individual wellbeing. An important element of the Framework is to develop the indicators that make up the Framework’s dashboard. The Treasury commissioned Conal Smith of Kōtātā Insight to prepare a report recommending the indicators that make up the Living Standards Framework. The Treasury has put this report out for consultation.

Our view

We recognise that this is an important consultation for the Treasury, Government, and the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.  We agree with the Chief Economic Adviser, Tim Ng, that the independent report by Conal Smith is “world-class.”

In our view, however, the primary issue with the proposed Living Standards Framework and Dashboard is that it is not performance-based.  What we mean is that it is not focused on a specific measurable outcome.  Instead, it is based around a ‘warm fuzzy’ concept of wellbeing outcomes.  In particular, the Framework is a model of flows and the Dashboard is a categorised list of indicators within the model.  In our experience, this Framework and Dashboard will only achieve about 30% of what is possible if it were performance-based.  Given the likely poorer outcome in its current form, the Framework may in time become more of an academic model or even be disbanded.  That would be a great loss to New Zealand and all New Zealanders.

The good news is that the foundational work to create a performance-based Framework and Dashboard has been completed in parts by Conal Smith’s report, New Zealand Treasury, and Stats NZ.  In this submission, we show how to convert all this work into an integrated performance-based Living Standards Framework and Dashboard.

Our response

To create a performance-based framework, we recommend:

  • An optimisation function that gives clarity to Treasury and Government: To maximise current and future individual wellbeing, as measured by life satisfaction; and to make these subject to international law and conventions, including human rights and New Zealand law, as well as our strongly desired ethics and values.
  • A hierarchical structure of individual wellbeing domains that makes it clear which domains are the primary drivers of this objective function and which are the secondary drivers.
  • The primary domains of individual wellbeing are health, income, social connections, and housing, based on work undertaken by Stats NZ.
  • A hierarchical structure of the capital stocks that makes it clear how the different capital stocks fit together.
  • The framework and dashboard be broad based to capture all the key investments in capital stocks that drive future individual wellbeing – particularly Local Government capital.
  • Each of the labelled capital stocks have two primary capital stocks, i.e. natural capital (environmental capital and ecosystem capital), human capital (knowledge capital and health capital), social capital (social connections capital and trust capital), and produced capital (public capital and private capital).
  • Social connections capital is an intergenerational capital capturing the ease with which society facilitates meaningful social connections. It is made up of community capital, family capital, and friends capital. We identify 30 societal changes that have negative impacted social connections capital over the last forty years.
  • There be one indicator for each domain of wellbeing (we recommend each indicator) and one indicator for each capital stock (we recommend each indicator).
  • There be an efficiency indicator for investments in capital stocks.
The submission, which provides further rationale and the recommended indicators, can be found in Further information below.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ.

A model for older people’s health, fitness and sociability

Review: Today Dr Beatrice Hale reports on an social exercise model to combat social isolation and loneliness called Steady As You Go (or SAYGO), which was the subject of a recent lecture by Assoc. Professor Linda Robertson. Her research was based on the SAYGO programme organised and managed by Age Concern Otago. The programme has operated for more than ten years and now has more than 50 groups in Dunedin with an average of 15 members each.  Furthermore, it has expanded to other areas in New Zealand.  People are referred to a group by their General Practitioner if they are at risk of falls. The groups are local, regular and led by ‘peers’. They provide long-term social connection for participants.

Dr Hale writes: “SAYGO is clearly an important model for alleviating loneliness in older people, ensuring some connectedness, and strengthening and supporting their wellbeing.” However, current funding of the programme is coming to an end.  The programme was originally funded by ACC and Ministry of Health, until 30th June 2017.  Temporary funding is due to expire on 30th October 2018.

Feature photo: Dr Beatrice Hale reports on Assoc. Professor Linda Robertson’s Otago Polytechnic Professorial Lecture, which discussed a model for initiating and maintaining programmes to encourage social connections for older people.

New study exposes the reality of tertiary students’ mental health

Review: Today the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) published the study: “Kei te Pai? Report on Student Mental Health in Aotearoa”, which was based on an opt-in survey of 1,762 tertiary students from across New Zealand. According to the NZUSA: “Adjusting to tertiary study, feelings of loneliness and academic anxiety have been identified as major triggering factors of depression, stress and anxiety amongst students.”

The study looked at 23 possible triggering factors of depression, stress and anxiety and correlated them against each students psychological distress, as measured by their Kessler score.  The stand-out major triggering factor was ‘feeling of loneliness’ with a correlation of 58%.  The other 22 triggering factors had correlations between 12% and 42%. The top ten triggering factors are shown in the following diagram.

Bar chart showing correlation of psychological distress with triggers of depression, stress and anxiety

Furthermore, the study examined the relationship between psychological distress (as measured by the Kessler score) and how many people can be relied upon in difficult times of life – a measure of meaningful connections. The study showed that participants psychological distress “decreased steadily as they thought they had more people to rely on.”

According to the study: “This finding strongly confirms that the number of people that the students think they can rely on in difficult times of their lives could be a strong predictor of their psychological distress.” In other words, you are less like to have psychological distress if you have more meaningful connections.

Feature photo: Cover page of new study. NZUSA.

No substitute for face time

Review: Today Joanna Mathers writes in the NZ Herald about the importance of workers interacting face-to-face for great business outcomes. “Face-to-face human interaction, it seems, is the key to greater creativity, relationship building, and idea sharing.” Building on this idea, the large tech companies – such as IBM, Apple, and Google are leading the way to reduce remote work in favour of the office.

Whilst there are disadvantages for the business, there are also disadvantages for the remote worker. “Life can be lonely for the remote worker, and it can be hard to find motivation when you’re not in the hub of a work environment.” What is suggested, where it makes sense for a business, is a balance between the flexibility of remote work and being in the office.

Feature photo: Face-to-face interaction with co-workers can sharpen the blade of creative energy. Getty images.

Academics doubt benefits of sexbots

Review: Today the NZ Herald ran a syndicated article from Telegraph Group on the doubtful benefits of sexbots. The article begins: “Sex robots are unlikely to solve loneliness or reduce sexual violence, according to doctors in Britain.”

Published in BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, Dr Chantal Cox-George and Professor Susan Bewley found no research in the literature on the health implications of sexbots. They said that the use of sexbots could worsen loneliness.

Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Media Release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided its submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. On May 8, a statement from Loneliness NZ was read to the Inquiry Panel at the  ‘Meet the Panel’ session at Auckland City Hospital, at which time the Panel encouraged Loneliness NZ to let them know what we would do different – that is provide a solution rather than only state a problem.  We have done just that in our Government Inquiry submission: “Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand.” In the submission we:

  • provide evidence showing the relationship between loneliness and mental health and addiction;
  • explain how social change is contributing to the rapid rise of loneliness in New Zealand society;
  • recommend a change in the New Zealand mental health paradigm, so that it is extended to include focusing on loneliness as an early intervention before mental illness and promote social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness;
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on those feeling lonely as an early intervention before mental illness; and
  • explain how Loneliness NZ will focus on promoting social wellbeing as a prevention of mental illness.
For further information, please contact us.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Incorporating loneliness and social connection into the Treasury Living Standards Framework

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Media release: Today Loneliness NZ provided a contribution to the NZ Treasury Living Standards Framework.

By way of background, the Government budget 2019 will be different to all previous budgets.  In addition to considering financial benefit and costs (i.e. Financial Capital), the budget 2019 will be based more broadly around the Living Standards Framework, which takes account of four types of Capital: Physical and Financial Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and Social Capital.

In February 2018, the Treasuring released four ‘discussion documents’ on the Living Standards Framework (see Further information below). Our response to these discussion papers focused on the Social Capital discussion paper, but also had implications for Human Capital and the Living Standards Framework in general.

The discussion papers were quite technical in nature, with economics terminology.  To address the issues in the discussion papers, our contribution was equally technical. Our contribution needs to be read in conjunction with the Treasury discussion papers.

General feedback on the Living Standards Framework

The key points raised in our contribution of broader relevance to the Living Standards Framework and Human Capital are as follows:

  • There are four primary social indicators driving wellbeing. We highlight the work of Stats NZ that has shown there are four primary indicators driving wellbeing in New Zealand. We do not believe any of these indicators are currently proposed in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social connection is important to public policy. We highlight twelve important public policy issues that are associated with social connection. As a consequence, we believe social connectedness indicators need to be in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social health is a cause of physical and mental health. We provide extensive references on this causal relationship, which is relevant to the relationship between Human Capital and Social Capital.
Why is this contribution important?
The draft Living Standards Framework, which is a wellbeing framework, does not include any social connectedness indicators, and does not propose to monetise any Social Capital indicators. The result of this draft is that Government policy will be unable to capture the benefits of social connectedness and costs of social disconnectedness (e.g. social isolation of the elderly). Further, the draft Living Standards Framework – if left unchanged – would imply that the Government has little interest in individual social wellbeing.

Feedback on the Social Capital discussion paper

An overview of what is included in our contribution is as follows:

  • Framing of Private Social Capital and Public Social Capital.
  • The consideration of an implicit assumption in the Discussion Paper.
  • The need for social connections indicators within the Living Standards Framework.
  • The reasons social connectedness indicators should be part of Social Capital.
  • A redefinition of Social Capital.
  • The consideration of what social connectedness indicators be within Social Capital, based on a detailed piece of work by Stats NZ.
  • The importance of an indicator around “not feeling lonely”.
  • Response on the three points where Treasury asked for specific feedback, including twelve important examples of the relation between public policy issues and social connection.

A brief overview of our recommendations are:

  1. There needs to be social connectedness indicators in Social Capital.
  2. The definition of Social Capital be redefined to including Public and Private Social Capital [however, Treasury has subsequently explained how individual wellbeing fits into the Framework – without needing to redefine Social Capital to include Private Social Capital].
  3. One of the social connectedness indicators should be not feeling lonely.
  4. The social connectedness indicators should be the primary measures of Social Capital.
  5. Social Capital be monetised [given the proposal at the time that the other three capitals be monetised].
It is important that our final recommendations, listed above, are read in the context of our full contribution (see Further information), which includes many national and international sourced references.
[How has the Treasury changed its view following this contribution]
Following the submission, the Treasury released for consultation a report by Conal Smith recommending the indicators in the Livings Standards Dashboard. The report did a great job explaining the complete Living Standards Framework which includes, in addition to the Four Capitals, a (current and future) wellbeing function.  The report proposed that the individual wellbeing function contain social connectedness indicators, including a loneliness indicator. Furthermore, it recommended a general health status indicator, which we had also highlighted is a primary driver of wellbeing.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Why Gen Z are the loneliest generation of adults

Review: Today Social media presenter Aziz Al-Sa’afin spoke to Duncan Garner of Newshub about how Gen Z (adults aged 18-22) – who have used the internet since a young age – are the most lonely generation, according to a US study by Cigna. The radio participants speculated that it is directly related to Gen Z being on social media instead of being out interacting personally with others.

On the other hand, the report found that social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; but those “individuals who are less lonely are more likely to have regular in-person interactions, are in good overall physical and mental health, have found a balance in their daily activities, and are employed.”

Feature photo: Aziz Al-Sa’afin during the interview. Newshub.