It’s human instinct to build relationships with others. While everyone needs solitude now and again (some more than others), we all recognize the importance of relationships in our lives. Psychologists have been researching the connection between mental health, physical health, and loneliness and have come up with some interesting, though not entirely surprising, conclusions.
First, depression and loneliness among children. Kids who don’t have enough friends in their younger years are more likely to become depressed and need to find a therapist when they reach adolescence. This is difficult because peer studies show that groups of children will avoid and isolate two types of children with compromised social skills: those who are overly aggressive and immature, and those who are extremely withdrawn and quiet. Children are emotionally volatile: they all feel sad, left out, or upset at times. But kids with friends—even one close friend is enough to help—don’t internalize those emotions the same way lonely kids do.
A second study on people who join groups shows that building relationships doesn’t just protect from negative impact; it has a positive impact as well. People who belong to groups, especially multiple groups, are more emotionally, psychologically, and physically resilient than those who don’t. Being a member of a group helps protect people from depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other problems that are often brought up in therapy and counseling. But it also creates a sense of identity. Group membership gives people a sense of value and belonging because of the role they play within the group. Plus, group membership is a distinct attribute that helps make the person who they are.
Together, these studies are a striking portrait of social interaction’s necessity in modern life. The more we distance ourselves through technology, the more weight real relationships and group identities will carry in our psyches. Meaningful relationships won’t prevent the type of depression and anxiety that require therapy or counseling to heal. But not having those relationships puts us more at risk for slipping into those darker places.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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