Recent Treasury analysis shows a strong association between mental health, wellbeing, and loneliness. Consistent with this strong connection, Loneliness NZ made a detailed submission to the Mental Health Inquiry. Given the many challenges faced in the mental health sector, the Mental Health Inquiry did not make any recommendations directly related to addressing loneliness.
Treasury highlighted on their blog in July 2019 new wellbeing analysis on mental health and loneliness. The analysis is in the analytical paper Wellbeing and mental health: An analysis based on the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework. The Treasury paper found:
The paper could only identify associations between the various domains of wellbeing and interactions with government, rather than identifying causal relationships.
Loneliness is strongly associated with low mental health wellbeing
Low wellbeing in other domains, particularly loneliness, is associated with higher prevalence of low mental health wellbeing. In particular, 41% of people who were always or often lonely also had low mental health wellbeing, while only 6% of people who were never lonely had low mental health wellbeing.
Loneliness also had the strongest relationship with low mental health wellbeing when demographics and other wellbeing indicators were taken into account. Overall, mental health wellbeing was more strongly associated with other areas of wellbeing (loneliness, deprivation, employment) than with particular demographic groups (ethnicity or age).
Mental health is the wellbeing indicator that is most strongly associated with overall life satisfaction
Mental health is strongly associated with overall life satisfaction. Half (50%) of people with low mental health wellbeing also had low life satisfaction, while only 5% of people with very good mental health wellbeing had low life satisfaction.
Mental health referrals are associated with low life satisfaction, low job wellbeing, low mental health wellbeing, and loneliness
Recent mental health referrals in the prior two years were particularly associated with higher prevalence for low mental health wellbeing, low job wellbeing, low life satisfaction, and loneliness.
Users of mental health services have high prevalence rates for low mental health wellbeing, low life satisfaction, and loneliness
The paper found that users of mental health services had much higher prevalence rates of low mental health wellbeing than people who have not used these services. This was particularly true for people with a mental health referral or those claiming an incapacity benefit. “There were also significantly higher prevalence rates for low life satisfaction and loneliness in each case. This provides further evidence of the link between mental health, loneliness and overall life satisfaction.”
The Mental Health Inquiry was set up to:
On 8 May 2018, Loneliness NZ read out a prepared statement to the Inquiry panel at the ‘meet the panel’ session held at Auckland City Hospital. This was followed by a detailed submission on 1 June 2018: Strategies for early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand. The written submission covered:
For more details, the reader is referred to the original submission.
The Mental Health Inquiry had over 5,700 submissions, following more than 400 meetings and 26 community forums. Given the interest, the Panel did not have the capacity to engage with us further.
The final report referred to ‘loneliness’ a number of times, with no referrral to the ‘lonely’. The statements were:
None of the recommendations directly related to addressing loneliness in New Zealand. The report does recommend establishing a clear locus of responsibility for social wellbeing within central government to provide strategic and policy advice and to oversee and coordinate cross-government responses to social wellbeing, including:
Elsewhere, we highlight the social determinants of loneliness – which are also many of the social determinants of mental illness. Since loneliness is frequently a mediator between poor social connection and mental illness, prevention of loneliness is a way to enhance cross-government investment in prevention and resilience-building activities.
Furthermore, the report recommends the formation of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission – to provide leadership and oversight of mental health in New Zealand, with a key role being mental health promotion and prevention. Given the strong association Treasury has shown between mental health, wellbeing, and loneliness, this Commission may provide the forum for addressing loneliness as it relates to early intervention and prevention of mental illness in New Zealand.