What can we learn about wellbeing and social capital from South Australia?

We partnered with Wellbeing and Resilience Centre  at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the University of Adelaide in the state of South Australia to look at their population level wellbeing data. It includes the same personal wellbeing questions as the UK data.

The research, published last month, is based on the South Australian Monitoring and Surveillance System, a monthly chronic disease and risk factor surveillance system of randomly selected people. It’s a very large survey that is representative of the population and looks at a large range of possible related factors. It shows only links – correlations – not causation, but is still useful as an indicator of where policy and community action could focus.

We found similar patterns to the UK, with higher wellbeing more likely for:

  • women
  • those living in rural areas
  • married
  • those able to save.

Lower levels of wellbeing were found in:

  • younger respondents
  • those living in the metropolitan area
  • the never married
  • those unable to save.

Control over decisions that affect our lives

The interesting thing about this dataset is that it also allows us to look at social capital. This was measured by how:

  • safe people feel
  • much people trust each other in their neighbourhood
  • how much control they have over decisions that affect their lives.  

We found that worse measures of social capital indicated lower levels of wellbeing, even when controlling for age and gender. The strongest relationship between social capital and wellbeing was when it came to how much people felt they had control over decisions that affect life. Those who do not have control were over 10 times more likely to have poor wellbeing.

The research points out that social capital, trust and relationships within a community, is at its strongest when disasters, problems or change affect a community. Investment in strengthening social capital along with resilience infrastructure- things like flood defences – in times of non-emergency could improve community resilience.

Health conditions and associated risk factors

The data also looks at a wide range of health indicators at the same time as wellbeing and social capital. Somewhat surprising in the analysis was the lack of meaningful associations between the chronic diseases and wellbeing, except for asthma. Previous findings have possible explanation: that two people can have the same health condition yet have very different levels of wellbeing, because it is ‘self-perceived health’, and especially experience of pain, that is the bigger contributor to overall wellbeing.  

The study did find that all risk factors for chronic diseases – alcohol harm, physical activity and fruit & veg consumption – were related to a person’s wellbeing. Only Body Mass Index (BMI) had no bearing on it.

A state of wellbeing in South Australia: the PERMA PLUS public health model

The current government of South Australia aims to become the first government in the world to systematically measure and build wellbeing across different cohorts and lifespans of the society to reduce the number of people experiencing catastrophic mental illness and to improve the resilience of the population. They aim to ‘foster factors that allow individuals, communities and societies to flourish.’

They use an evidence based model called PERMA Plus as the basis for the projects they do to improve wellbeing and resilience.  

Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Achievement

Plus

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition (5 veg 2 fruits a day)
  • Physical activity  
  • Optimism

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