Join the Wikiprogress Online Consultation on Youth Well-being

BLI InitiativeThe Wikiprogress Online Consultation on Youth Well-being is open now and running until the 8th May.

How should we measure and define “youth well-being”?

What works for improving young people’s well-being?

How can we improve the process for effective youth policy?

For the next month, we want to gather ideas from as wide a group of people as possible about how to improve the way that governments and other social actors can improve well-being outcomes for young people.

The findings of the consultation will be presented at the OECD Forum in Paris in June, and a report will be handed out and made available to policy makers, foundations, civil society organisations and others in the Wikiprogress network.

We have started the consultation with some broad questions, but want the debate to evolve as more people contribute and add their own questions and ideas. So sign up now and join the debate!

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Depressing depression: mental illness and work

Making mental health countFormer US President, Harry Truman, once said: “It’s a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.” This rings particularly true right now, when in some countries it might not just be your neighbour but your whole street, you included, that has lost their job. In fact, being unemployed has a large negative effect on your physical and mental health, as well as on how happy you are with your life.

There have been many indications that rates of anxiety and depression have been rising since the economic crisis. Europeans reported feeling “more negative” in 2010 than in 2005-06, and one study even linked the rise in suicides to the 2008 downturn, with nearly 5000 suicides above the expected level in the following year. This has severe consequences on the population’s well-being, with mental health being a key determinant of how healthy people are and how satisfied they are with their life. For instance, over the four years to 2012, average life satisfaction declined by more than 20% in Greece and by around 12% in Italy and 10% in Spain, all countries that experienced big rises in unemployment. Looking at the OECD Better Life Index, we see that these three countries now all do poorly in life satisfaction, with Greece coming last.

The OECD’s Making Mental Health Count tells us that mental health has a huge impact on economic productivity. Not only are people with severe mental illness more likely to die younger (up to 20 years), but they are more likely to be unemployed and poor. This translates into very high costs for countries, with the total costs – direct and indirect – of mental ill-health reaching an estimated $2493 billion in 2010. In England, the overall lost earnings due to depression were estimated at £5.8 billion in 2007, and is projected to rise to £6.3 billion by 2026. Being mentally healthy is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” But if you don’t have a job and you’ve more chance of being depressed, and if you are depressed you probably don’t have job. So what’s the solution?

Unfortunately, despite the enormous health, social and economic costs created by mental illness, mental health care is still not a priority in most countries. Although there has been an initiative by many countries to move people out of mental hospitals towards care in the community, which is better, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The amount of money spent on mental health care is very small. For example, mental illness is responsible for 23% of England’s total burden of disease, but only receives 13% of National Health Service health expenditures. This low spending is mainly due to lack of information on the amount of care provided and the outcomes care produces. This is because mental health problems are completely different from physical problems, and much harder to understand and measure.

This is a big issue for the well-being of countries, as around 20% of the working-age population suffers from a mental disorder. Being mentally unwell has a major impact on your quality of life, and your ability to be productive at work. Conversely, work organisation and workplace relationships can have a profound effect on your well-being and mental health. So much so, that one of Britain’s leading doctors, John Ashton, has called for the country to switch to a four-day week to reduce high levels of work-related stress, let people spend more time with their families or exercising, and reduce unemployment.

Fortunately, there are initiatives which are trying to shine a light on this hidden issue and improve the services provided in the workplace for mental health problems. One example is the prevention and reintegration services offered by Helsana, the largest private health insurer in Switzerland. They offer companies support to develop a healthy work environment through the assessments of risk factors (including factors that can generate mental health problems) and the development of a prevention plan, as well as helping sick employees return to work. However, despite these initiatives, much more must be done.

In the meantime, if this article has made you depressed, try taking a leaf out of Edgar Allan Poe’s book, when he says: “I do not suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it”.

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How’s life? 2013 – Measuring well-being

Mental health and work This series of country reports offers both a general overview of the main challenges and barriers to better integrating people with mental illness in the world of work, as well as a close look at the situation in specific OECD countries.

OECD work on health


How’s life in old age?

BLIFor many young people there is no time like the present when thinking about their life. When we are young we tend to think about how happy we are now and not ponder too much on what our quality of life will be like later. Most people using the OECD Better Life Index are below 65 years-old, and people of working age (20-64 year-olds) make up the largest part of the population, outnumbering the elderly (65+ years) four to one.

But a look into the future gives a very different picture. Life expectancy at birth is already approximately 80 years among OECD countries, a gain of more than 10 years since 1960, and the average fertility rate of 1.74 is below the replacement rate. This means that the population is getting older and it is projected that by 2060 there will be fewer than two people of working age for every one of pension age. So instead of just thinking about how our life is now, we should start thinking about how it will be in the future.

A look at how life is for the elderly of today gives us a mixed picture. OECD Pensions at a Glance 2013 identifies income as a crucial factor in determining how life is going to be in our twilight years. Recently, OECD countries have had some success in this domain, with the average poverty rate among the elderly falling from 15.1% in 2007 to 12.8% in 2010, in spite of increasing poverty rates suffered by the rest of the population due to the crisis. Incomes of people aged 65 years and older in OECD countries reach about 86% of the level of disposable income of the total population. But just as for other issues, there is a gender gap among the elderly. As women live longer, they are more likely to end up living alone on a low income in their old age, and are therefore more at risk of poverty.

Our health and social support networks (friends and family) are other important measures that affect our well-being later on in life. Not surprisingly, the elderly are among the least satisfied with their health. But they are also the least likely hang out with friends, with 20% of people aged 65 and over reporting no contact with friends. Access to public services is particularly important for our older people, as they need more care than the rest of the population.

With spending on long-term care sometimes exceeding 60% of disposable income, we have to find new ways to sustain ourselves in old age. In some cases this has led to some rather drastic solutions. In Switzerland, the prices for care are so high (between USD 5 000 and USD 10 000 a month), some families have resorted to the rather controversial solution of exporting Grandma and Grandpa abroad to more affordable retirement homes as far away as Thailand. Coincidentally, Switzerland also has one of the highest old-age income poverty rates (22%) in the OECD. In Korea, where the population is ageing rapidly, families have come up with a less extreme alternative. They have managed to work around the strains of taking care of their older relatives by using the new Ubiquitous Health House system (uHouse) that relies on Internet technology to monitor their loved one’s health. This allows families and the elderly to maintain privacy and independence while facilitating family care, and is designed to substitute for hospital service.

So as an ageing population and the effects of the crisis continue to put pressure on pensions and the quality of life of the elderly, we should all be asking ourselves, how life will be when we are older?

Useful links

Pensions at a Glance 2013: OECD and G20 Indicators

How’s Life? 2013: Measuring Well-being

Does happiness score goals? The Better Life Index meets the World Cup

BLIDo happy countries make great football teams? With the World Cup in full swing, we have already seen some great wins and some devastating losses. But do the performances of the players and the team reflect the situation back home?

The favourites, Brazil, definitely seem like a cheerful bunch with their colourful banners and clothes, their samba dancing, and their extravagant style of football. But looking at how they score in the 11 Better Life dimensions may give a different picture. Compared with other countries, Brazil performs well in only a few dimensions. A fact that has sparked great controversy, as 11 billion dollars were spent on the World Cup preparations, money that some argue could have gone into raising Brazil’s well-being ranking.

And what about the skilful Italians or the precise-passing Spaniards? Both are considered world champions in football but when it comes to better life they are not among the highest performers. On the other side of the post, the winning country for well-being is Australia, as it ranks above average in all aspects of well-being, except for work-life balance. Unfortunately, the Australians’ ranking in football does not match their better life ranking, and their performance so far has not been so joyful, with a 3-1 defeat by Chile.

In some cases correlations can be found between well-being and happiness. For example, Germany, which out-ranks Portugal in all the better life dimensions apart from housing, annihilated the Portuguese 4-0 in their last game, and overall they win by 10 games to 3. However this is an exception, and even if we only consider life satisfaction i.e. how happy people are with their life, the two rankings still do not add up. Although the Brazilians score a lot of goals in life satisfaction, giving a 7.2 grade to their overall satisfaction with life, many other footballing nations don’t score high. Furthermore, using the 2013 Gallup Positive Experience Index we see that four of the the top five countries (Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ecuador) did not even qualify for this year’s World Cup, Ecuador being the happy exception.

Maybe more of a case can be made for the positive effects of football on a country’s happiness. In a 2012 OECD report it was found that football could improve social cohesion with programmes, such as “Goals for a Better Life” in Colombia, that promote education through football. Football also has the potential to break down social boundaries by including people of all ages, gender and ethnic background in one activity. Thailand’s new rulers believe so much in the power of football to make people happy that they have ordered free World Cup TV for the population as part of their “happiness campaign”.

On a national level, hosting an international event such as the World Cup can have benefits for the host country by improving infrastructure, increasing tourism and trade and creating a sense of national pride. Following their analysis on the impact of Football for the Socio-Economic Development of Brazil, the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, believe that if well-harnessed, the World Cup could take Brazilian football to the same position off-pitch as on the field.

There is, however, a dark side to football. Although it can foster social inclusion, it can also worsen social exclusion and can amplify existing problems such as discrimination. Also, if not done right, hosting a major event can have a negative effect on a country’s image and hinder future investments. As we have seen in Brazil, the World Cup has caused huge controversy and the jury is still out on whether or not it will be a good thing for the country.

It seems then, that the relationship between football and happiness is unclear. Happiness does not necessarily make a good football team, just as football does not make a country happy. Maybe the real joy comes from simply watching your team play, regardless of whether your country or team is doing well.

But if happiness doesn’t make a great team, what does? Is it team tactics, players’ salaries, fan support…? Decide for yourself by playing our new game where the Better Life Index meets Fantasy Football.

Fantasy football