Feelings of isolation enhanced by our increasingly technology-obsessed lives have contributed to a record-breaking year for crisis support service Lifeline, which received more than one million requests for help from troubled Australians in 2015.
Is social media making us sad?
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Is social media making us sad?
Following their busiest period on record in 52 years, Lifeline CEO Pete Shmigel believes increased isolation and the effects of social media could be affecting our mental health.
It is the first time in the charity's 52-year history that the number of crisis and suicide prevention calls passed the one million mark in a year, while September to December was the busiest four-month period ever for the service's 24-hour crisis phone line.
Lifeline Australia chief executive officer Pete Shmigel said it was no coincidence that more Australians were seeking help at a time when they were also spending more time online, particularly on social media.
"We've seen the restructuring of the conventional way of our society. We don't know the neighbours on our own streets ... and at the same time you're getting this amazing phenomenon called social media, which I believe has the capacity to accelerate those senses of loneliness and isolation," Mr Shmigel said.
"The more connected we are online, physically we don't have time to be connected in real life, and that goes against the grain of hundreds of thousands of years of human experience.
"We've been in families and we've been in communities because we need direct, real, human, sticky, gooey, social contact. It's what keeps us well."
Mr Shmigel said many people also cultivated idyllic versions of themselves and their lives on social media, a process that has been named "digital amnesia".
"We filter out all of the things that are unattractive about our lives and our personas for the purposes of social media, and only put our best foot forward," he said.
As a result, many people were left wondering whether, for example, they were the only unhappy person on Facebook, while there was also an intense pressure to have the "best car, the best holiday or the right dress", Mr Shmigel said.
The demand for help from Lifeline was both heart-wrenching, but also heart-warming, because more people felt they could reach out and discuss their mental health issues with others, Mr Shmigel said.
"Mental health has become a mainstream discussion, whether it's in the media, whether in a pub or in the workplace," he said.
The more connected we are online, physically we don't have time to be connected in real life.Lifeline Australia chief executive officer Pete Shmigel
"We've made it socially acceptable to increasingly reach out and share about the things that concern us, and that is wonderful. People now have the green light to say 'I'm in trouble here, and I need somebody else to help me get out of trouble'."
Lifeline Australia said 977,503 telephone calls were made to its crisis line in the past year, while it received 44,470 online chat requests for help. On average, there was one phone call made to the Lifeline crisis line every 32.2 seconds, records show.
Mr Shmigel said the charity was hoping to introduce a new text message-based support service in the near future.
For crisis or suicide prevention support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au