Integrative approaches to mental health often involve medications coupled with various lifestyle “prescriptions,” such as diet, exercise, goal-setting, and perhaps most importantly, socialization. Social interaction is an unequivocally crucial component in the prevention and treatment of many mental health-related disorders, including clinical depression.
Why Socialization Matters Most in 2021
Of the intensive measures taken to ensure the stop of the spread of the coronavirus, one of the most effective has been the need for social distancing, which can create adverse effects on mental health. Since the implementation of social distancing measures in March 2020, most people have had to forgo important components of their social routine including opportunities for in-person connection to friends and family members.
As of September 2020, studies show that among US adults, depression rates have tripled. A lack of social outlets has doubtlessly played a major contributing role in this increase. In today’s climate of interpersonal isolation, finding new ways to connect while reinforcing existing support systems is more critical than ever.
Research Entailing Why Socialization Matters in Preventing Depression
Studies detailing the ways in which socialization ameliorates depressive symptoms are plentiful. Jordan Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., and Chair in Psychiatric Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that when it comes to psychotherapy, “now we see [socialization’s] role in prevention may be equally as important.” Smoller’s team conducted a comprehensive study that was published by The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2020. The study sampled data from over 100,000 UK Biobank participants.
The data was synthesized for 106 modifiable factors corresponding to each participant’s lifestyle, social and environmental variables in order to provide a broad and systematic survey known as an ExWAS (exposure-wide association scan) during the first stage. The second stage involved applying an MR (Mendelian Randomization) technique to further isolate certain results.
At its conclusion, the study showed evidence that confiding in others was the number one actionable target for preventing the onset of serious depression.
A Note on Correlation Versus Causation
When studying the variables that affect mental health, it’s important to be aware of the key differences between correlation (meaning a relationship between two variables) and causation (meaning that one event/variable prompts another to occur). Confusing the two can skew the results and interpretations of medical studies.
It can also be tricky to avoid the problem of bidirectional relationships between risk factors and depressive outcomes. These relationships are when causality moves mutually between variables, such as the case with napping and depression, wherein each factor increases the risk of developing its counterpart.
Studies attempt to eliminate this sort of ambiguity, but here’s why it’s important to keep in mind: depressed subjects are correlationally less likely to engage in social activities while depression compounds pre-existing isolation by causing symptoms that make socialization even more difficult, such as an impairment of basic cognitive functions leading to fatigue, impaired plan-making, and trouble communicating.
The Ins and Outs of Confiding in Others
In the past, mental health problems have undergone intense periods of stigmatization. It is important to know how to let go of shame and know how to ask for assistance. Broaching the silence about mental health conditions can be overwhelming. It can be helpful to formulate a plan to help communicate about depression with your loved ones.
The benefits of opening up extend beyond the formulation of beneficial support systems. The act of confiding improves one’s health. Those who keep trauma or emotional upset to themselves exhibit higher levels of stress and even lowered immunological defenses against disease.
What Types of Social Interaction May Carry Some Risk
When learning more about why socialization matters in bolstering one’s defenses against depression, be mindful that not all forms of social interaction are created equal. Some social activities that may initially be perceived as beneficial, can actually have negative consequences.
- The Pitfalls of “Social” Media
- The same study that extolled the value of social interaction also warned that the top risk factors for developing future depression include the aggregate time spent on a computer, a cell phone, or watching TV.
- Many other studies also warn of social media’s adverse effects on mental health as it can provide empty short-term gratification, exacerbate personal insecurities, and increase overall feelings of isolation.
- Unhealthy Dependence
- Though friends and family can provide amazing support systems, be wary of a maladaptive dependence on loved ones for support that can undermine your ability to meet your emotional needs on your own.
- Personal Versus Professional Confidants
- Remember that loved ones may not possess the adequate training you require when dealing with depression. Talk therapy with a professional may better suit some of your emotional needs.