The ‘black dog index’, an initiative of the Black Dog Institute and Newspoll, suggests that coping with ‘the blues’ is not a huge problem for most Australians. When asked to rate how much they were troubled by anxiety and feeling miserable or depressed, the average ratings for all respondents in the most recent poll conducted in April 2013 were 2.7 and 2.9 respectively on a scale of 0 to 10 with zero being ‘not at all’ and 10 being ‘completely’. The average rating for being ‘troubled by feeling that life is hardly worth living’ was even lower, 1.2.
The averages are much the same for men and women and all age groups. They are somewhat higher for people who are not married and for those who are not working, but the average numbers are still low.
Nevertheless, there is evidence that a substantial proportion of the population suffer from anxiety and depression. I want to focus here on the evidence relating to young men, presented in ‘Game On: Exploring the Impact of Technologies on Young Men’s Mental Health and Wellbeing’, by Jane Burns et.al. which presents the findings from the first ‘Young and Well’ national survey. ‘Young and Well’ is a Cooperative Research Centre with a focus on young people. It involves 70 partner organisations across the non-profit, corporate, academic, and government sectors.
Of the 700 young men included in the survey, more than three-quarters (78%) described their mental health as good to very good, but almost half (48%) nevertheless expressed concerns about coping with stress. Of those aged 22 to 25, 18.7% felt that ‘life is hardly worth living’, 13.5% thought that they would be ‘better off dead’, 12.4% claimed to have thought about taking their own life, 7.8% claimed to have made plans to take their own lives and 2.8% claimed to have attempted to have taken their own lives.
The survey suggests that young men with relatively high levels of psychological distress spend more time on the internet than others and access the internet more frequently late at night. The authors refrain from speculating about whether this might be a cause or effect, but they report that those with relatively high levels of psychological distress are more likely to use the internet to talk about problems and find information for mental health and alcohol or other substance abuse problems.
The authors of the report see internet technology as providing an opportunity to address the reluctance of young men to seek help when they are experiencing psychological distress. They suggest that many young men could benefit from online mental health services incorporating digital content, games and music. The report refers favourably to ReachOut.com, an online mental health resource for young people.
It is refreshing to read a report about anxiety and depression that recognizes it as a problem that was also experienced by earlier generations rather than as a consequence of unique pressures that people face in the modern world. It is great that researchers are exploring the potential for modern technologies to help people to overcome problems they are having in managing their lives.