Mental Wellness Tied to Social Justice Policies, Study Finds

Data from the European Union suggests that countries with greater concern for social justice initiatives have happier and more satisfied citizens.

Samantha Lilly
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People who live in countries that promote greater social justice tend to be happier, according to a new study published in the Journal of Community Psychology. Researchers Salvatore Di Martino of the University of Naples and Isaac Prilleltensky of the University of Miami found that social justice and fairness play a large role in feelings of happiness, belonging, and life satisfaction in the European Union.

Di Martino and Prilleltensky write:

“Social justice is one of the strongest predictors of national happiness. After holding constant, both individual and country‐level controlling variables, increasing the level of social justice across the EU member states also increases the level of national life satisfaction.”

According to other transnational and cross-cultural research on life satisfaction and happiness, there is more happiness than feeling good.  Social issues such as high unemployment and discrimination of marginalized populations have been correlated with higher suicidality rates and mental ill-health. However, rarely do large scale, nationally sponsored studies on citizens’ life satisfaction consider how inequity and inclusive policies relate to happiness.

The study, “Happiness as fairness: The relationship between national life satisfaction and social justice in EU Countries,” was designed to fill a gap in research on life satisfaction.  The authors write that “community psychology lacks substantial quantitative evidence to demonstrate a direct link between social justice and life satisfaction, particularly at the macrolevel of analysis…it is hard to find quantitative studies which place social justice in relation to happiness or well‐being.”

Di Martino and Prilleltensky set out to fill this hole in research, hypothesizing that the Social Justice Index (SJI) would be a significant predictor of life satisfaction in the European Union. The SJI is an operationalization of two formulations of justice, distributive justice and the capabilities approach.

Distributive justice is “the realizing of equal opportunities and life chances”—meaning that there is an effort to move toward an equitable distribution of resources for each person who needs to utilize them. Whereas, the capabilities approach highlights that for something to be considered ‘just,’ it must be accessible to all despite one’s initial ability to access it.

The SJI incorporates six domains of social justice: Poverty Prevention, Equitable Education, Labor Market Access, Social Cohesion, and Non-Discrimination, Health, and Intergenerational Justice.

The primary sample of Di Martino and Prilleltensky’s study consists of data from 169,803 individuals living within 28 European Union countries, measured across seven time points between 2008 and 2017, for 168 observations.  The study relies solely on secondary data that the authors refer to as the Eurobarometer. The Eurobarometer, developed by the European Commission, measures life satisfaction by asking a single question, “on the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied, or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?”

When interpreted in relationship to the SJI measure, this question yielded results that confirmed Di Martino and Prilleltensky’s hypothesis that social justice is a significant determinant of life satisfaction at the national level.

These results ought to be considered within the scope of the study’s limitations. For example, the Social Justice Index (SJI) utilizes a normative/philosophical explanation of social justice that is difficult to translate into a quantitative measure. Perhaps more importantly, despite the sample’s inclusion of a vast number of observations, the number of people surveyed in each country every year accounts for only a portion of the country’s population. Therefore, the authors advise caution in generalizing the results to the whole of the European Union and beyond.

Despite its limitations, this study reinforces the need to pay attention to psychological dynamics at the individual level and the social, political, and economic contexts within which people lead their lives. Indeed, these dynamics are intimately intertwined with one’s personal experience and may very well be a primary predictor of someone’s overall life satisfaction.

 

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Di Martino, S., & Prilleltensky, I. (2020). Happiness as fairness: The relationship between national life satisfaction and social justice in EU countries. Journal of Community Psychology, 48(6), 1997-2012. (Link)

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Samantha Lilly
Samantha Lilly brings their background in philosophy, bioethics, and social justice to their work as a critical suicidologist, with the belief that suicidology, at its best, is social justice work. Before beginning a Ph.D. in Health in Social Science at the University of Edinburgh, Sam was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Their project, “Understanding Suicidality Across Cultures,” gave them the privilege of working alongside ethicists, scholars, and rights advocates in the Benelux countries, Lithuania, Argentina, Aotearoa, and Indonesia. Sam’s current research is dedicated to bringing feminist and decolonial methodologies to suicide prevention.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Samantha,

    “the realizing of equal opportunities and life chances”

    “…it is hard to find quantitative studies which place social justice in relation to happiness or well‐being.”

    We can’t waste money “studying” the obvious. Perhaps fund that “study” money into choices of schools. And here, hopefully we are not going to call them “alternative learning” geared to those “alternative kids”. Is it rational to think a world can truly move into a positive direction if the aim is to keep it under rule and lack of healthy choices? We are always in uncharted territory so we never know what “moving forward” or “advancing” really mean.
    The governing bodies are going to have to look at their wasted “study” money.
    Unless they really are looking for wars of anarchy.

  2. Psychology and psychiatry largely function to bring about the antithesis of “social justice,” from my experience.

    Their primary societal function, according to the medical literature, and my family’s medical records, is misdiagnosing and neurotoxic poisoning child abuse survivors (and/or their legitimately concerned family members). Which, of course, also functions to aid, abet, and empower child molesters.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    How does having a multi billion dollar, primarily child abuse covering up, scientifically “invalid” and “unreliable,” group of “mental health” industries promote “social justice?”

    And because I recorded the crimes committed against my family, by child abuse covering up, psychologists and psychiatrists in my work. A non-clinical Lutheran psychologist recently attempted to steal all my work and money, with a “psy op” and a BS “art manager” / thievery contract.

    That psychologist’s goal, according to him, was to “maintain the status quo,” and “get all the money in the hands of a small number of banking families.” And he felt it was appropriate for school social workers to attempt to drug up the best and brightest American children, to achieve his unjust goals.

    Psychology and psychiatry promote the antithesis of “social justice,” from my experience. We should be arresting the pedophiles, not neurotoxic poisoning child abuse survivors. And the Lutheran psychologists need to be reminded that attempting to steal from the widows in your church is also a crime.

    And I will add, refusing to utilize one’s malpractice insurance for what it is intended, is a form of thievery. A form of thievery which many “mental health” workers are participating.

    Social injustice is what all “mental health” workers that I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with, had as a goal. And their partnership with the ELCA pastors has resulted in the bishops of my childhood religion being turned into systemic child abuse cover uppers, too.

    https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Culture-Wars-Reclaiming-Prayer/dp/1598868330#immersive-view_1602531228620

    I hope for a return to the rule of law, justice, and that the “mental health” workers, pastors, and bishops will some day soon get out of the pedophile empowerment business.

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