As part of its commitment to promoting community mental health awareness and psychological wellbeing, for the fifth consecutive year the APS commissioned a stress and wellbeing survey of Australians. As a special focus in 2015, Australians were asked additional questions about their use of social media and experience of FoMO (Fear of Missing Out). The survey also included a sample of young people, aged 13-17.

The 2015 survey provided the opportunity to examine five years of data to gain a half-decade snapshot revealing the state of Australians’ mental health and wellbeing as well as insights into the social media phenomenon which is increasingly shaping how people behave and relate as well as having an effect on their wellbeing. The 2015 survey results were released during Psychology Week (PW) and generated significant media coverage.

Five year snapshot – Stress and wellbeing

The half-decade snapshot shows that Australians are faring worse than they were in 2011 when the survey began, reporting lower levels of wellbeing overall and in the workplace, and higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms.

Australians’ levels of wellbeing have fluctuated over the five years. A slight improvement was recorded in 2014 and 2015 but wellbeing still remains lower than 2011 when the APS first surveyed Australians on this important measure.

However the news isn’t all bad. In this year’s survey, when Australians were asked about their wellness across six key life domains (physical, social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and vocational wellness), three in five rated themselves moderately to extremely well across these life domains.

Key survey findings 5 years

Key findings include:

  • 35 per cent of Australians report having a significant level of distress in their lives;
  • 26 per cent of Australians report above normal levels of anxiety symptoms;
  • 26 per cent of Australians report having moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms; and
  • In 2015, anxiety symptoms were the highest they have been in the five years of the survey.

Wellbeing:

  • Age: Younger people (18-25) have consistently reported lower levels of wellbeing than older Australians;
  • Employment status: The unemployed report the lowest levels of wellbeing whereas the retirees report the highest levels of wellbeing;
  • Living arrangements: Australians living with a partner reported significantly higher levels of wellbeing compared to all other groups (e.g. sole parents, living with parents, etc.);
  • Children: Those with children have higher levels of wellbeing than those without children; and
  • Education/Income: Wellbeing levels rise with education and income.

 

Experience of distress, depression and anxiety symptoms

Over the last five years (2011-2015), on average, 35 per cent of Australians reported experiencing distress, 36 per cent experienced depression symptoms and 26 per cent anxiety symptoms. Of those, 13 per cent experienced severe levels of distress, 12 per cent severe to extremely severe depression symptoms and 11 per cent severe to extremely severe levels of anxiety symptoms.

Of particular concern is the number of people in 2015 with higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms and distress reporting that they used gambling, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and taking recreational drugs to manage stress.

  • Of those reporting severe levels of distress, 61 per cent drink alcohol, 41 per cent gamble, 40 per cent smoke and 31 per cent take recreational drugs to manage stress;
  • Of those reporting extremely severe levels of depression symptoms, 57 per cent drink alcohol, 46 per cent gamble, 41 per cent smoke cigarettes and 38 per cent take recreational drugs to manage stress; and
  • Of those reporting extremely severe levels of anxiety symptoms, 66 per cent drink alcohol, 54 per cent gamble, 47 per cent take recreational drugs and 45 per cent smoke cigarettes to manage stress.

Causes of stress

Australians’ worries about money have not abated. Financial issues rated as the top cause of stress over the five years, while also of concern is the increase in the number of people turning to gambling to manage stress (now one in five), growing from 13 per cent in 2011 to 19 per cent in 2015. After financial concerns (49%), the leading causes of stress over the five years were family issues (45%), personal health (44%), trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle (40%) and issues with the health of others close to them (38%).

Interestingly, younger people are significantly more likely than older people to be stressed by environmental issues.

Ways of managing stress

Australians manage stress in a range of ways, using activities to relax and to change their thinking and behaviour, including thinking positively, adjusting their expectations and avoiding stressful people and situations, with ‘focusing on the positive’ being rated one of the most popular and effective means of managing stress over the five years.

The top five ways of managing stress across the five years were watching TV or movies (85%), focusing on the positives (81%), spending time with family and friends (81%), listening to music (80%) and reading (75%).

There were substantial increases in the extent to which a number of strategies were used to manage stress over the five years including:

  • Eating – more than seven in ten (66 per cent in 2011 vs 75 per cent in 2015);
  • Visiting social media sites – one in two (37 per cent in 2011 vs 51 per cent in 2015);
  • Doing something relaxing (i.e. have a bath, going to a spa or having a massage) – close to one in two (31 per cent in 2011 vs 46 per cent in 2015);
  • Video games – more than one in three (28 per cent in 2011 vs 33 per cent in 2015); and
  • Gambling – one in five (13 per cent in 2011 vs 19 per cent in 2015).

Special focus for 2015: FOMO and social media experience

The 2015 survey included an in-depth exploration of Australians’ experiences of social media usage and the social, psychological and behavioural impact of the use of social media on their health and wellbeing. Social media in the context of the survey is defined as the use of the internet and mobile technologies to turn communication into social interactive dialogue. It excludes activities like texting and email.

Social media allows individuals access to increasingly abundant opportunities for interaction through real-time information about the activities, events, and conversations happening across diverse social networks. However, it contributes to the phenomenon of Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) which is defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences that you are not part of, and is characterised by the desire to stay continually connected online with what others are doing (Przybylski, Murayama, DeHaan, & Gladwell, 2013).

Two validated and standardised instruments developed by Przybylski and colleagues (2013) were included in this year’s survey to provide an insight into Australian’s social media engagement and FoMO:

  • The Social Media Engagement Questionnaire (SMEQ), and
  • The FoMO Scale (FoMOs)

Key findings

Australians are avid social media users. Of the Australians who responded to the FoMO questionnaire, adults were spending 2.1 hours per day and adolescents 2.7 hours per day connected to social media.

Among adolescents, 56 per cent report being heavy social media users (connecting 5+ times per day), with 25 per cent being constantly connected.

In contrast, almost one in four (23%) adults report being heavy social media users, with 6 per cent of those being constantly connected.

Social media dominates the life of many adolescents.

  • Over half of adolescents (53%) connect to social media 15 minutes before bed every night.
  • Almost two in five connect (37%) in the presence of others and within 15 minutes of waking up.
  • Almost one in four adolescents (24%) reported using social media when they were eating breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
  • The impact of social media use on Australian’s wellbeing is evident in a range of ways: more
    than one in two adolescents (57%) and one in five adults (23%) find it difficult to sleep or relax
    after spending time on social networking sites and 60 per cent of adolescents and a quarter of adults (25%) feel brain ‘burnout’ from constant connectivity of social media.

Social media use is associated with a range of fears and anxieties among adolescents:

  • 79% are afraid they will miss out on something if they don't stay connected to their online social networks.
  • 63% feel left out or excluded after seeing photos of their friends together at something they weren't invited to.
  • 60% worry about people posting ugly photos of them.
  • 55% feel bad about themselves when nobody comments on or likes their photos.

FoMO

Both Australian adults and adolescents experience Fear of Missing Out (FoMO): one in two adolescents and one in four adults experience FoMO. Interestingly, younger adults, those aged 18-25 (48%) and those aged 26 -35 (44%) experienced similar levels of FoMO to adolescents.

Generally, there are no significant gender differences in the experience of FoMO. Older Australians are significantly less likely to report that they experience FoMO.

Benefits of social media

There is an upside to social media use with many reported benefits both for adolescents and adults. In particular, heavy social media users report more of both the positive and negative effects.

On the positive side: 84% of adolescents say it strengthens their relationships, 82% feel connected to like-minded people through their online social networks, 78% use social networks to connect with youth around the globe who share common interests, 72% feel empowered to seek help through the use of social media, 70% love posting photos of themselves and their friends to social media and 51% use social media as motivational tool to achieve health goals.

Adults reported that social media use helped enrich their professional networks, empowered them to seek help and helped them achieve health-related goals.


APS stress survey brings extensive media attention

The 2015 survey was rich in material of interest to the media, from the FoMO findings to the five-year snapshot, the increase in people turning to addictive behaviours to manage stress as well the peak in anxiety symptoms, all of which have been covered in media stories. The FoMO findings in particular peaked media interest and led to widespread coverage across print, TV and online as well as substantial radio talkback discussions on the topic with APS spokespeople. Coverage was extensive, including 250 individual media items on TV, radio, in print and online about aspects of the survey with many hundreds of additional syndications.

Media highlights

  • Radio news stories on the survey findings featuring audio quotes from Lyn Littlefield reached an estimated audience of more than 10 million Australians.
  • A feature TV segment about the survey on ABC News 24 Weekends on Sunday morning plus coverage on ABC News around Australia
  • Print stories in more than 40 metropolitan and regional newspapers around Australia, including all the leading NewsCorp Sunday papers – some of the country’s most read papers.
  • International reach through news outlets and social media channels
  • Extensive talk-back interviews on many of the most respected and top-rating programs around Australia (ABC stations in many States, major metro stations such as 3AW and 2UE).

Social media: the #psychweek hashtag reached more than 350,000 people, on Facebook the FoMO infographic reached 10,166 and the survey reached almost 4,000 people.

Web: More than 1,000 people downloaded the APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey from the web during PW with 4,000 people visiting the #psychweek pages and over 20,000 page views during the week alone.

Video: The Better Lives video reached more than 8,500 people on Facebook, more than 1,000 on YouTube.

The total APS social media audience (for all official channels) grew to more than 28,000 followers.

Member involvement

Again in 2015, APS members were central to the PW campaign hosting 579 events around Australia, including a number of large high profile Member Group events, at which tens of thousands of branded resources offering stress and lifestyle advice were distributed, reaching thousands of Australians. Members also supported the campaign by joining in on social media, sharing posts and retweeting survey statistics, posting pictures of their events and comments – adding to a lively week where people were engaged in conversations and activities, demonstrating the value psychology brings to Australians’ lives.

New in 2015, a dedicated survey release and fact sheet were produced and made available to members during the week, increasing opportunities for a local perspective on the survey to be provided to media.

 

About the survey

The APS, in conjunction with an online research company, conducted the APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey with a representative sample of Australians (n=1,521). In addition to conducting the main survey, just under half the sample (n=740) as well as a group of adolescents aged 13 to 17 years (n=210) completed an additional survey relating specifically to social media usage and FoMO. For more details see the survey at www.psychologyweek.com/survey/

 

The full report on the APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2015 can be found on the APS website at www.psychologyweek.com/survey/ Your feedback about the survey is welcome – please send to psychologyweek@psychology.org.au.

Karen Coghlan, Manager, Media and Communications, and
Rachel Pui-Tak Liang MAPS, Project Officer, APS National Office

InPsych December 2015