Richard Fecteau

By Richard Fecteau

October 18, 2018

Health

Social interaction is good for your mental health

Article revised on 13 November 2018

Good news! You have fun with your friends, they support you in times of need, and they give you a hand on moving day. But according to recent studies, your friends are also good for your mental health and help you live a longer life.

People who are socially well-connected are normally in better health than people who live alone or who have little social contact1. Furthermore, people who have more social interaction are less likely to be affected by depression or dementia.1 Studies also show that social people are less likely to be sick or recover more quickly if they do become ill2. You could say that socializing is a way to boost your immune system.

Loneliness also affects physical health

A person who is socially isolated has a 50% higher risk of premature death than a person who has a solid social network1. The effects of loneliness and social isolation on health are as negative as those caused by obesity, lack of physical exercise or smoking1.

The body experiences loneliness as a form of stress1. In response to this stress, the body sends signals that cause the heart rate and blood pressure to go up, among other things. Over the long run, high blood pressure and heart rate are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, aneurysm and stroke, which increase the risk of premature death1.

Healthy social interaction contributes to happiness

According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a study carried out by Harvard University, healthy social relationships, determined as healthy by quality and not quantity, function as stress absorbers. They help to “soak up” and reduce negative emotions and the stress of the difficult moments in life such as grieving, separation and illness3.

This study also found that maintaining healthy social relationships was more predictive of a long, happy and healthy life than one’s social class, I.Q. and even genetics.3 Similarly, it appears that people who are happy and satisfied with their relationships at age 50 are healthier at age 803.

The conclusions of this 75-year study are unequivocal: loneliness kills. Its effects are comparable to alcoholism or smoking. On this year’s World Mental Health Day look after yourself by calling a friend!


References:

1. L’isolement social, un important facteur de risque de mortalité prématurée. Institut de cardiologie de Montréal. Online article (in French) by Dr. Martin Juneau, cardiologist and director of the prevention division at the Montreal Heart Institute and clinical professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Université de Montréal.
2. Jetten J., C. Haslam, S.A. Haslam and N.R. Branscombe. The social cure, Scientific American Mind, 20, (2009), 26–33.
3. Good genes are nice, but joy is better, Harvard Study of Adult Development. The Harvard Gazette website.

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