Is it Time to Pay More Attention to our Digital Health?

We are constantly digitally connected. We check our phones when we wake up, and we browse social media that little too long before we fall asleep. The average age a child has their first mobile phone is 10, and youngsters now use their families’ devices long before that. 50% of young people are heavy social media users, but digital gluttony is far beyond that. We now use it for shopping, banking, relationships, work, and hobbies. Without it, we would simply be lost.

The digital era has brought us benefits aplenty. It’s produced services, products, games, networking, life hacks, and has arguably both improved and streamlined our lives. Social media has been at the forefront of this over the past decade. It brings us connectivity, not just to family and friends but idols and people all over the world. It allows people to express themselves, explore their identity and interests, and interact with those who share the same interests as us. It brings empathy, builds communities, can provide emotional support, and even allows us to participate in movements. Unfortunately, the pitfalls are catching up.

Despite its benefits, we know social media can be harmful to young people and their health. Several studies have found a link between social media use and worsened mental health, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and increased suicide risk. Half of girls and two-fifths of boys have been the victims of online bullying, and 41% of Gen Z users say social media makes them sad, anxious, or depressed, with Instagram and Snapchat judged to be the most destructive. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have an overall positive effect.

One reason is that we all fall into the trap of comparisons, wondering why our lives aren’t as great as the people we follow. It’s easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel, a place we post our best pictures, our funniest jokes, our favourite memories. You may see someone’s holiday to Corfu and the party they attended last Friday, but you won’t see that bout of food poisoning or a pimple they just couldn’t cover yesterday. People present their perfect life, whilst hiding their real struggles. Envy has become heightened in the digital age.

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A National Health Crisis

Despite all the divides across the UK, if you really want to get 99% of the British Public rallied together, dare to criticise the NHS. The NHS tops the Pride of Britain list by a sizeable margin and is unequivocally part of our national identity. So, when someone like, say, Donald Trump weighs in on the issue, the UK is quick to rally around it’s in defence. Groups like ‘NHSMillon’ and ‘People’s NHS’ everyday show support for the institution, and its popularity is great.

In 2017, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable system of the 11 countries it assessed. Many elements of the NHS are lauded: the quality of care and range of treatments, the staff, and of course it being free at the point of use. When Trump used protests to brief against a single-payer health system in the US, he forgot some facts. Only 10% of British voters want parts of the NHS to be privatised, and despite spending almost half of GDP compared to the US on healthcare, we achieve far better outcomes.

However, things are changing.

Public dissatisfaction with the service is now at a 10-year high. Of course, satisfaction is still high, 57% in fact, but that has fallen 6 points from 63% last year.  On the other hand, dissatisfaction has doubled since 2014. Since 2010, no country in Europe has had a worse record in health than the UK. NHS pressures are no longer confined to the winter, it’s an all-year-round crisis.

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Plan B Politics

As Stephen Bush’s piece last week highlighted, there are a finite number of messages a political party can run on. Typically, these positions don’t change between elections because they are so simple: “things would work better with us in charge”. 2017, however, was a turning point for both parties.

When Jeremy Corbyn rose to victory in Labour’s leadership election in 2015, he did so on the back of a promise of a new type of politics. Many chose him because he offered something the other three candidates seemingly did not, and that was hope. Corbyn famously asserted he would bring a new straight talking, honest politics into the Labour party, something he really hasn’t done. He was meant to be the politician who could finally energise the dwindling youth vote and bring non-voters out into the voting booths for the first time.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Labour had returned from a near 20-point deficit in the polls to force a hung parliament. A dismal campaign from Theresa May gave Corbyn the wind in his sails, and policies such as the abolishment of tuition fees had on the face of it galvanised the youth to an astonishing spike in turnout. However, as we now know, this wasn’t exactly the case.

Recently, the British Electoral Survey found that turnout did not increase among 18- to 24-year-olds at the 2017 election, although it did increase in areas with larger numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds. The noteworthy changes were actually found in the 25-44 age group, where turnout increased significantly and swung in great numbers towards Labour. The groups of voters Corbyn aimed to bring out in force did not turn up, and despite a successful campaign, Labour’s Plan A had failed.

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Mental Health in a Busy Life

Juggling work, projects, education, a social life, and finding time for yourself is incredibly tough. When you add into the mix poor mental health, the problems are only heightened, and it’s easy for everything to get on top of you. You find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, your mental health flares, but you don’t have the time to look after yourself. I work full time, have my own place to keep on top of, personal projects I work on, and this really doesn’t leave too much time for much else.

As I’ve written about before here, I am someone who needs to keep myself busy – whether it’s at work or at home. All in all, this is usually a big positive for me and my mental health. The problem is that when I am stuck in a rut and my mental health is a mess, it can be extremely difficult for me to escape terrible thoughts. This then brings other issues including a lack of productivity, and a lack of want to focus on other areas including my social life.

I do struggle with socialising and putting myself out there, and a busy life only adds to that problem. We all have those days where we wake up and say “Right! Today’s the day, a new me”. You imagine yourself becoming this ultra-version of yourself. You’re going to excel at work, take on new projects, pamper yourself, make new friends, and have this incredible social life. Now, usually, by the next day, this has disbanded, and your mental health takes the hit.

Is it even possible to become that person? The one you imagine? No of course not, nothing could compare to that. But here are a few tips to find a better mix and manage your busy life alongside your mental health at the same time.

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The Politics of Time Travel

“You and I belong to the same tribe. We have a shared identity, and something to talk about.” Simon Kuper uses this to describe Trump’s America, those who either grumble about the lying media or look at Trump’s tweets with absolute horror. As I highlighted in my last piece, tribal divisions are rife within politics and society, whether it be age, class, education, or heritage. But maybe it can be summed up in one underlying split, one which Will Jennings calls ‘Two Englands’.

One side is traditionally younger, more liberal, like globalisation, and believe that the future will be better than the past. The other is older, more conservative, traditionally live outside of the cities and believe things were better in the past. They want to travel back to when political correctness wasn’t rife, when you could leave your door unlocked, when you used pounds and ounces, and although some will not admit it, when things were a little more, white.

It’s the same abroad, especially so in the US. If any of you watched Miriam Margolyes’s recent trip across ‘Middle America’, you would have seen that core trait among Trump supporters. Many wanted to go back to when America was supposedly ‘great’, when everyone bought into American culture, when Cowboys ruled the lands, and although they didn’t highlight it, this was when racism was far rifer.

The divide between these ‘Two Englands’ is greater than ever. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 62 percent voted for Labour, compared with 27 percent for the Tories. For older people, the positions were reversed: 61 percent of over-65s voted for the Conservatives and 25 percent for Labour. It was just the same in the referendum back in 2016. Three-quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds voted Remain. But two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

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What is it that Divides Us?

Jo Cox gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3rd June 2015. Describing her constituency, globalisation, and immigration, Jo inspirationally said that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. After her death just a week before the EU referendum, the hashtag and movement #MoreInCommon went global and ever since has been used as a means of attempting to heal the conflicts and divides in society.

Of course, it’s true in many ways. We are all the same. But there’s no doubt that we should be worried about the growing divisions festering around us all. Traditionally, the big divides were that of political party identification, this has since been replaced by simply: Remain or Leave. It’s understandable why; despite both party leaders playing down the issue, it will define us and our country for generations to come. The referendum formalised a deep cultural divide stemming across many factions. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, and towns against cities.

In the past, it was class that was the main predictor of a person’s likely voting behaviour. This has significantly narrowed, with both support for Labour among the middle class and support for the Conservatives among the working class rising by 12 points between 2015 and 2017. The big divide in voting behaviour is now age. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18-to-24-year olds Labour led by 35%, but among over 65’s the Tories held a 36-point lead. In the referendum three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-olds voted Remain, but two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

Education was also a big factor in both votes. In the 2017 election the Tories led by 22% among people with ‘low educational qualifications’, but those with ‘high-level educational qualifications’ plucked for Labour by 17% more. In the referendum, those with GCSE or lower qualifications voted 70:30 to Leave, but those with a degree voted 68:32 in favour of Remain. There’s also another reason for these stark contrasts: the direction and leadership of the two main political parties under current leadership. May’s Conservatives have lurched to the right, and Corbyn’s Labour to the left, and people are being forced to choose a side.

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A Year in Review

What a year it’s been – both for me, and this blog. When asked to describe 2017, people will think Brexit and the election, and despite watching the news in horror for most of the year, this has at least been good for my blog. I definitely haven’t had a shortage of items to write about. At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of posting a piece a week, and I’ve kept to that without it (in my opinion) being detrimental to the quality.

So, what’s happened this year in my personal life? Not much to be honest. After the host of changes in 2016 which included graduating, new job, moving into my own flat, 2017 has been quiet. I’ve had a good year at work where I’ve had a raise, took on some side projects, and feel I’m getting closer to a promotion. Outside of work I’ve been involved in a lot of my own projects which I’m excited for, but currently I, unfortunately, do not have the time to knuckle down on them as much as I’d like.

2017 is also a year where my mental health has been relatively kind to me. Bar some low points in the autumn I’ve been fairly in control throughout the year, and I hope that can continue into the new year. One disappointment personally is that I am still very single. I obviously do not want to rush into a relationship for the sake of it, but I have been single for a long time now and am extremely sick of it. So, what are some of my highlights of the year…

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