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Comment: Social isolation trumps loneliness as early death indicator

By Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation and Carley Tonoli, The Conversation

Social isolation in old age significantly increases the risk of an early death and outstrips loneliness as a factor associated with mortality, a UK study has found.

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The new findings, published in the journal PNAS, are based on a study of 6,500 men and women aged 52 and older enrolled in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in 2004, and assessed the participants’ risk of death through to March 2012.

The study assessed social isolation based on marital status, frequency of contact with family and friends, and participation in community organisations.

Participants filled in questionnaires to gauge loneliness and factors such as demographics, preexisting long term illness, age and sex were also taken into account.

The study found that socially isolated seniors have an increased risk of early death regardless of their health and demographic background, whereas the link between loneliness and early death exists only for participants with underlying mental or physical concerns.

“Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with increased mortality. However, the effect of loneliness was not independent of demographic characteristics or health problems and did not contribute to the risk associated with social isolation,” the paper said.

“Although both isolation and loneliness impair quality of life and well-being, efforts to reduce isolation are likely to be more relevant to mortality.”

Lead author of the study, Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at the University College London, said that the people in the study did not end their own lives.

“The people in this study died of the usual causes -– cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illness — not suicide,” he said.

Loneliness versus social isolation

Professor Richard Hugman, convener of the Social Work discipline at University of NSW and Fellow of the Australian Association of Gerontology, said the findings shed new light on the connections and differences between isolation and loneliness.

“This is important because in the work of health and human service professions, as in the wider society, there is often a tendency to conflate the two – leading either to assumptions that all isolated older people must be lonely or that, if they are distinct, then it must be loneliness that is the cause of negative health outcomes,” said Professor Hugman, who was not involved in the study.

“The strong evidence that it is social isolation that has the negative impact on health outcomes is challenging because for many people it is counter-intuitive,” he said.

Dr Lynette Chenoweth, Professor of Aged and Extended Care Nursing at the University of Technology Sydney, said the findings were consistent with what had been reported elsewhere.

“When people become socially isolated and communication with others is very limited or ceases, the person can lose their health and well-being and this can lead to an earlier death. Suicide in the socially isolated person is high,” said Professor Chenoweth, who was not involved in the study.

“It’s essential that anyone at risk of becoming socially isolated through ostracism, lack of transport, income, infrastructure, function and social outlets, has a support program put in place by family, friends, neighbours, formal and volunteer support services,” she said.

“Community nurses and other health staff, such as GPs, have an obligation to help the person and their family to institute support processes and strategies and/or refer them to community support service agencies,” she said.

Professor Victor Minichiello, a gerontologist at the University of New England, said the research was significant because it includes a large sample size and a longitudinal study.

“It is consistent with what we have known for a long time,” he said, adding that the new finding “further highlights the need to look at what causes social isolation in seniors.”

“It is interesting to look at the implications of the way people are interacting, not only in the physical, but also in virtual worlds. This highlights the ways in which social networking technologies could be helpful,” said Professor Minichiello, who was not involved in the study.

“We need to be looking at what sort of services can we bring into the homes of seniors that allow greater virtual social interaction and enhance their connectivity with the world, including family and friends.”

Ageism could also be a factor, he said.

“Our society is ageist, our services are frequently based on a youth culture and from the point of view of financial institutions, once a person is no longer employed, they lose their relevance and social identity, and reduce their social networks.”

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A decade after the Iraq invasion

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A decade after the invasion of Iraq by US led forces, calls are still being made for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the conflict.

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And a human rights organisation is also calling for investigations into abuses that it says continue to this day.

Ten years ago, this month, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq.

“At this hour American and Coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from great danger. On my orders coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war.”

The initial ferocious air strike – under the military doctrine of shock and awe – was the start of what the Americans dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The following day, on the 20th of March 2003, ground forces invaded Iraq.

The bloc contributing troops in the first phase was named by US President George W Bush the Coalition of the Willing, and included just four countries — the US, Britain, Australia and Poland.

Australia put up approximately 2,000 Defence Force personnel, including a special forces task group, three warships and 14 fighter jets.

Baghdad was occupied less than three weeks later, on the 9th of April, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his central leadership went into hiding.

Then on May the 1st, from the deck of an aircraft carrier and with a “Mission Accomplished” banner behind him, US President George W Bush made this bold declaration.

“Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle for Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

Among the reasons given by President Bush and his administration for the invasion was the liberation of the people of Iraq from a brutal dictator and to bring them democracy.

But chief among the reasons was the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMDs.

No WMDs were ever found, and instead of welcoming American intervention sectarian violence fanned by insurgents frustrated the US military and politicians.

Today, combat operations have ended in Iraq and troops have been drawn down.

But the country remains in a parlous state.

Iraq expert, Dr Benjamin Isakhan from Deakin University has told a conference examining the decade since the war that Iraq is now one of the most violent and difficult countries in the world.

He says its infrastructure is crumbling, its government is increasingly authoritarian and many of the people live without adequate sewerage, electricity or water.

Dr Isakhan says Iraq is neither more peaceful nor more prosperous, and only marginally more democratic, than when the country was invaded in 2003.

International rights group Amnesty International is calling for a full investigation into fresh allegations of human rights abuses by Iraqi officials.

Amnesty suggests such abuse is the cultural legacy of the war.

Amnesty International spokesman Michael Hayworth says 129 people were executed in Iraq in 2012.

“It’s doesn’t matter who is committing the abuses, whether it was the previous regime, whether it was international forces, whether it’s the current Iraqi authorities. It’s that this culture of impunity in Iraq needs to stop and wherever there are allegations of torture, other ill-treatment and human rights abuses, they need to be investigated and if there is sufficient evidence people at the most senior levels necessary need to be prosecuted for those abuses, otherwise we are going to see the cycle of violence, the cycle of impunity, torture and human rights abuses continue in Iraq.”

Just before the 2003 invasion, Andrew Wilkie was working at Australia’s senior intelligence agency – the Office of National Assessments.

After repeatedly raising his concerns internally, he quit his job in protest at Australia’s impending involvement in the coalition preparing to invade Iraq.

Mr Wilkie, now an independent member of federal parliament, says time has not diminished the shocking reality that Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War was unethical, unnecessary and illegal.

“Not ethical in that it is wrong to use force except in the most extreme and justified circumstances. Not necessary because what was needed was to give the weapons inspectors more time to try and find these mysterious weapons of mass destruction and if they couldn’t find them that would have been the end of the whole WMD line of attack or argument for war. And not legal because Iraq’s material breach of UN sanctions at the time did not in itself in international law justify the use of force. There was never a specific UN resolution authorising the invasion of Iraq.”

Mr Wilkie is still calling for an independent inquiry into Australia’s role in the Iraq war.

“Ten years have passed and my concern has not diminished one bit. In fact I am probably even more concerned that we are still to have a proper inquiry into Australia’s involvement in the war. We are still to clear up the public record and put on the public record the facts of the matter and we are still to hold the perpetrators of this debacle to account.”

Brian Martin, a Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, supports that call.

Professor Martin is an expert on social activism and the suppression of dissent, and says Andrew Wilkie was a superb whistleblower.

“It’s always necessary to examine actions that lead to enormous suffering in the world and certainly the invasion of a country. I’d say Andrew Wilkie was one of the most effective whistleblowers because he did everything right, he went straight to the media and he resigned.”

Professor Martin says questions remain about the political responsibilities and moral obligations of the United States and its key coalition partners, including Australia.

He’s voiced a concern expressed by many who opposed the war in 2003.

“A lot of people are thinking for themselves and saying, why are Australian troops being sent to a place in the world where there is no threat to Australians? In fact the bigger threat to Australia, arguably, is that going into Afghanistan and Iraq could increase the risk of terrorism in Australia.”

Professor Martin also argues there’s a final irony in the war’s legacy for the United States — that the primary aggressor in the Iraq conflict suffered the most diplomatically.

“One of the results of the invasion was a decline in the reputation of the United States government around the world, especially in the Middle East.”

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Comment: National cultural policy is ‘bold, but vulnerable’

By Ben Goldsmith, Queensland University of Technology

The first major national cultural policy in 19 years was unveiled by Minister for the Arts Simon Crean yesterday.

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Minister Crean has called it “a national cultural policy for the decade.” Uncharitable souls might ask “which decade?”, given that it was first promised soon after the election of the Rudd government in 2007. It is, however, a bold and forward-looking statement.

In marked contrast to the limited detail provided by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in support of the media reforms he announced on Tuesday, more than 150 pages Creative Australia outlines a comprehensive set of proposals for immediate action, and some aspirations for the longer term. Like the media reforms, however, it may not survive if there is a change in government in September.

In October 1994, the Keating government’s Creative Nation Commonwealth Cultural Policy presented an emerging vision of a culture-led economy that was both proudly Australian and “open to the world”. Creative Australia similarly emphasises the contribution that cultural and creative industries can make to innovation and national productivity. More than half a million people are directly employed in these industries, up from around 300,000 in 1994. Employment growth is double the national average. For all the focus on mineral resources, the arts and culture are the real keys to the nation’s future spiritual and economic wealth.

Creative Australia is less anxious than its predecessor about the prospect of Australia being “swamped” by international content and culture, and more bullish about future opportunities. Great stress is placed on “joining the dots” between the arts and other policy domains, from the new national arts curriculum that embeds arts and media education in schools from primary level onwards, to the role of cultural diplomacy in Australian foreign policy, particularly in Asia.

Of Creative Australia’s funding envelope of $235 million, $190 million is new money. Much of it will come from other portfolios, as Minister Crean delivers on the partnership-oriented approach he championed during the review.

Funding and responsibility for regional touring programs will be transferred from the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport to the Australia Council. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Screen Australia will fund a new program to create 40 new media jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A new organisation, Creative Partnerships Australia, will be set up to bring together artists, philanthropists, corporate donors and sponsors. This organisation will also facilitate new funding models, with programs for micro-loans, crowd-sourcing and matched funding. A new National Arts and Culture Accord will bring together governments at all levels to agree a coordinated, collaborative three-year plan in which arts education will be prioritised.

Where Creative Nation sought to shift the policy and funding focus from supply to demand, Creative Australia seeks to enhance the “social dividend” of the arts by “supporting excellence” in production and training. Legislation will be introduced next week to “modernise” the Australia Council and give it a new mandate to support artistic excellence. The restructured council will also receive the largest single tranche of new funding, amounting to more than $75 million. Six elite training institutions will receive almost $21 million over four years. Six major performing arts companies will receive an additional $9 million. And a Major Performing Arts Excellence Pool will be established in partnership with state and territory governments to support new, innovative projects.

The new national cultural policy joins the growing rank of major policy proposals made since the election date was announced last month. But cultural policy is rarely seen as a critical vote changer. Creative Nation appeared halfway through the Keating government’s second term.

It was a thank you gift to the arts community which had noisily and effectively backed the prime minister in the “unwinnable” 1993 election. Most of its programs, which included ambitious upgrades to Indigenous art support, innovative SBS content production, funding for commercial television production and cutting-edge multimedia technologies, were able to be implemented and run for one full funding cycle before they were dismantled by the Coalition after 1996.

Creative Australia comes very late in the current political cycle, and this may prove to be its downfall. Despite its ambitions, and the minister’s enthusiastic support, and notwithstanding the substantial program for change, this policy may not be given the opportunity to be as influential as its predecessor.

While the Minister pleaded at yesterday’s launch for federal political bipartisanship given the importance of the arts to Australia’s future and identity, its long-term impact will probably depend on the outcome of the forthcoming election.

Ben Goldsmith does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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‘Child warriors’ open up about traumatic experiences

Deng Adut was twelve when he held his first AK47.

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After years of practicing with toy wooden guns, his new weapon felt heavy and awkward, nearly reaching his shoulders. Still, it wasn’t long before it became his only form of security.

“When I didn’t have my guns with me you feel like naked,” Adut tells SBS’s Insight. “But once you have the guns, you have so much power in your hands. Every time I have my gun it’s always loaded. Safety button is off because I know at any time something would happen.”

When Adut was a very young child, he was taken from his family to be trained as a solider in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He says he was often beaten and tortured for disobedience and had close friends who were killed. Adut also witnessed many killings by firing squad, which he says was one of the first things he was exposed to as a child soldier.

“You see these people falling down and the blood just keep flowing. I remember one guy refused to die. He refused to die until he was shot in the head and those memories were shocking.”

While Adut was forcibly taken and trained as a child soldier, others like former Neo-Nazi skinhead Frank Meeink willingly chose to join extreme causes as a child.

‘I LOVED SEEING FEAR IN THEIR EYES’

Growing up in a troubled and abusive home in the United States, Meeink was indoctrinated into the Neo-Nazi movement at the age of 14.

“As I joined into this movement I become part of the Christian identity which is the far right Christian group. We would go to bible studies, learn about how we should hate the Jews and the gays. Then we’d go out, at bible studies, we’d shoot guns at targets and plan to start a race war in America.”

Anyone that was not of European descent or part of his circle was an enemy he tells Insight. Meeink adds that the movement gave him a sense of identity and belonging, but above all, he “loved” being feared.

“I remember looking in people’s eyes when we would come up on them and seeing fear in their eyes and I loved that. Up until that moment in my life I feared everything,” he tellsInsight.

Meeink has since abandoned his beliefs but he joins a number of people on the Insight forum who, as children, were exposed to extreme – and often traumatic – political situations.

RECOVERING FROM TRAUMA

Clinical psychologist Deborah Gould works at the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) and sees many people such as refugees who have lived through traumatic events like war.

“A lot of the effects that we see on children are from parents who are themselves traumatised and struggle to parent. If a parent is traumatised, one of the messages is that the world isn’t safe,” she says.

“There is also a shattering of assumptions about life and that people are good. Those are quite horrible lessons for a child to learn.”

But people can recover. Gould says that the key to teach survivors how to react differently to former emotional patterns and triggers.

“What we aim for is for them to always remember [the trauma] but not to have the trauma response to the memory. If they have developed something like PTSD, trauma counselling is important.

“But in some cultures the idea of talking about something doesn’t make sense. [In these cases] physical activity is the most therapeutic thing, for example meditation, yoga, theatre and dance. The key is to have some form of intervention rather than nothing.”

Catch Insight tonight at 8.30PM on SBS ONE.

WATCH PREVIEW

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US dismisses ‘evidence’ of Assange grand jury

On the ABC’s Q&A program last night, information activist and wikileaks supporter Matt Watt presented documents to US ambassador Jeff Bleich, claiming to provide evidence of a US grand jury indictment for Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange.

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“These are subpoenas for two US citizens, one is David House, the other one is unnamed, for a grand jury, it’s got the grand jury number on it as well, will you now admit the grand jury exists?” Mr Watt asked Mr Bleich on the program.

David House, who is named in one of the documents brandished by Mr Watt, testified at a grand jury hearing over his involvement with alleged Wikileaks source Bradley Manning in June 2011.

The US has repeatedly reaffirmed its position to not discuss the alleged existence of a grand jury tasked with extraditing Mr Assange from Sweden on charges of espionage.

Last night, Mr Bleich dismissed such claims, saying people misunderstood the US’s refusal to discuss a grand jury as confirmation that it exists.

“This is one of those sort of ‘gotcha’ things that people love to do about Julian Assange,” he said on the program.

“The United States has nothing to do with it [Assange’s charges in Sweden], we are not connected to it in anyway. And to say there must be something going on that is secret is…it’s movies and fantasies and spy novels.”

Mr Watt says the reference carried by the documents, ““10GJ3793”, reveals an active grand jury reference number for Mr Assange’s extradition and indictment, with “GJ” indicating “grand jury”.

“The two documents are subpoenas to appear before a grand jury in Virginia in the US. It doesn’t give the exact description of Wikileaks, but it does give the same description of charges that they are investigating,” Mr Watt told SBS.

“It’s quite publically known that there is a grand jury underway for Mr Assange and these documents confirm that with a grand jury number that is identical on both documents.”

But Mr Watt accepts that even if the documents are legitimate, it could be a coincidence that there are similar espionage cases underway before a possible grand jury.

“That’s a fair assumption to make, but David House is a friend of Bradley Manning and he was involved with the Bradley Manning Support group who transcribed the grand jury events when he appeared, even though it wasn’t allowed,” he said.

Mr Watt said he put the documents to Mr Bleich last night to highlight Australia’s duty of care for Mr Assange and to reveal the plan he believes the US has for him.

“I believe the Australian government has effectively abandoned Julian Assange,” he said.

“He has requested assistance from the Australian government to make a representation on his behalf to the Swedish government in particular, to ensure things like no further extraction.”

Senator Carr said it would be harder to extradite Assange from Sweden than the UK, because “the Swedes say it is our policy … that we never extradite someone on a matter to related to military or intelligence”.

“They just don’t do it,” he said.

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