Social Connectedness and Mental Health Benefits
Social connection is an important and valuable aspect of human life. This is true for people across cultures and lifespans. Studies suggest that being in a relationship with another person can benefit health, longevity, and a sense of overall well-being. Research also suggests how to maintain social connections in order to preserve relationship quality.
To begin, a study by McNamara et al. (2017), suggested that children benefit from socializing and that peer relationships are critical to their overall development. For instance, competencies such as being able to cope, cooperate, use language, problem-solve, regulate emotions, and empathize are developed while in a relationship with another (McNamara et al., 2017). In fact, it is suggested that the more socially connected a child is, the less likely they are to experience substance abuse or mental health problems later in life (Ang et al., 2019). Moreover, adolescents who are more connected with themselves, their friends, their school, and their family are suggested to be healthier, and developmentally on track. They are also less likely to report feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression (Ang et al., 2019).
Similarly, adults seem less likely to struggle with mental health symptoms if they are socially connected. One study in New Zealand found that adults who were already socially connected were less likely to develop mental health distress after one year (Saeri et al., 2018). The same study also indicated that adults with mental health distress were less socially connected prior to experiencing distress. This study indicated that social connection might actually prevent mental health symptoms from developing to begin with. As for older adults, studies noticed a correlation between reduced mental health concerns and more time spent socializing online (Brown & Kuss, 2020) as well as increased cognitive decline in those with dementia who stopped socializing (Zamir et al., 2020).
Tending to one’s relationships can help with coping during a crisis. For example, in Austria in early 2020, a group of individuals over the age of 18 were interviewed over a period of six weeks while in lockdown. It was found that people who had greater social connectedness were less likely to experience COVID-19-related worry. On the contrary, interviewees with small social circles reported higher distress and more fatigue (Nitschke et al., 2020). Another study on adults going through the COVID-19 pandemic reflected how a local community that conveys kindness and connection seemed to positively influence mental health. (White & Van Der Boor, 2020).
Several studies suggest how children, adults, and seniors can stay connected. Although it may be a nice way to stay in contact sometimes, it is encouraged not to rely too heavily on social media. Perhaps this is because the quality of the relationship is more important than the quantity of relationships (Neves, et al., 2017). High-quality relationships depend upon face-to-face interactions, including facial expressions and eye contact (Zamir et al., 2020). Certainly, a video chat with your friend or a telehealth appointment with a healthcare provider over Zoom will offer a higher quality interaction (Zamir et al., 2020). On the contrary, you can’t see your friend’s reaction to a Facebook post. You don’t know the tone of their voice when you simply chat over messenger.
Among certain older adults, social fulfillment decreased with use of Facebook, noting the interaction to be too superficial (Hunsaker et al., 2020). Another study suggested that the more a person used their smartphone, the less developed their communication skills (Ang et al., 2019). One study suggested that taking breaks from social media might even improve one’s general well-being (Brown & Kuss, 2020). For example, taking seven days off from social media in a row seems to make a person feel more socially connected, improve sense of mental wellbeing, and allow one to not worry about whether or not they are missing out (Brown & Kuss, 2020).
In sum, relationships are at the core of who we are. It matters when we lend a hand or call a friend. Staying socially connected can help to bring meaning to our lives. Although this can be challenging in a complex world, research supports that certain avenues or platforms may offer an opportunity to build a higher-quality relationship.
Perhaps Charlotte from the book “Charlotte’s web” knew all about friendship when she answered her friend Wilbur the pig. White (1952) wrote,
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ He Asked, ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte.
‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”
Ang, CS, Teo, KM, Ong, YL, Siak, SL (2019). Investigation of a preliminary mixed method of phubbing and social connectedness in adolescents. Addict Health, 11(1), 1-10. http://dx.doi.org/10.22122/ahj.v11i1.539
Brown, L. & Kuss, D.J. (2020). Fear of missing out, mental wellbeing, and social connectedness: A seven-day social media abstinence trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 4566, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17124566
Hunsaker, A., Hargittai, E., & Piper, A.M. (2020). Online social connectedness and anxiety among older adults. International Journal of Communication. Retrieved December 8, 2020, from https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/11841/2950
McNamara, L. Colley, P., & Franklin, N. (2017). School recess, social connectedness and health: a Canadian perspective. Health Promotion International, 32, 392-402. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/dav102
Neves, B.B., Franz, R., Judges, R., Beermann, C., & Baecker, R. (2019). Can digital technology enhance social connectedness among older adults? A feasibility study. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 38(1), 49-72. https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464817741369
Nitschke, J.P., Forbes, P.A.G., Cutler, N.A.J., Apps, M.A.J., Lockwood, P.L., & Lamm, C. (2020). Resilience during uncertainty? Greater social connectedness during COVID-19 lockdown is associated with reduced distress and fatigue. British Journal of Health Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12485
Saeri, A.K., Cruwys, T., Barlow, F.K., Stronge, S., & Sibley, C.G. (2018). Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(4), 365-374. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867417723990
White, E.B. (1952). Charlotte’s web. Harper and Brothers.
White, R.G. & Van Der Boor, C. (2020) Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and initial period of lockdown on the mental health and well-being of adults in the UK. BJPsych Open, 6(5), https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo/2020.79
Zamir, S., Hennessy, C., Taylor, A., & Jones, R. (2020). Intergroup ‘skype’ quiz sessions in care homes to reduce loneliness and social isolation in older people. Geriatrics, 5, 90. https://doi.org/10.3390/geriatrics5040090