We have all heard the expression “no man is an island”. Some of us are more introverted than others, but we can all admit that to some extent we require social interaction. Presently, with our increased dependence on technology and the extra hours spent at work it is becoming progressively difficult to engage in social interaction as often as we would like. Other times, we are not even aware of how socially deprived we are.
We have previously written about loneliness in the workplace, which other media sources have even gone so far as to call it a plague. There is no doubt that loneliness can have a negative impact on our mental health, but can the opposite of loneliness, social interaction, have a positive impact on it?
What the Research Says:
The relationship between social interaction and health (physical and mental) has been well studied in the past, but clearly with the lack of emphasis we place on it in our lives, we seem to have forgotten about its benefits.
Researchers have found that social interaction may:
- Lower the negative effects of stress (Cohen, 2004; Thoits, 1995),
- Provide a person with a sense of meaning in their life (Cohen, 2004: Thoits, 1995),
- Increase personal control (Mirowsky & Ross, 2003; Thoits, 2006), and
- Decrease levels of depression (Sheridan et al., 2015), among other benefits.
These positive effects of social connections are of course, only results of social interactions/relationships that are healthy in and of themselves. Social interactions that are unhealthy, such as those that lead to substance abuse, would not yield such benefits (Sheridan, et al., 2015).
Allen J. Frances, an American psychiatrist involved in the critique/revision of the DSM, and co-founder of CooperRiis (a holistic in-patient facility for individuals with mental illness) recently wrote an article calling on readers to invite someone with mental illness into their homes and have a talk with them, which he believes has healing benefits (Frances, 2015). He laid out the simple truth that people with a mental illness are still human, and that they are equally, if not more trusting and loving than people who do not have a mental illness (Frances, 2015).
Bullying and gossiping have already been flagged as major issues in the workplace with detrimental effects. Perhaps changing these behaviours into those that reflect inclusion, such as socializing with someone we wouldn't usually engage with or going up to someone who looks upset may be a helpful move for the mental health of the workplace in general.
Do you think there are potential mental health (or other) benefits to simply engaging in social interaction? Would you speak to someone who you know has a mental illness at work? Is there something that would hold you back from doing this?
Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59(8), 676–684. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.59.8.676
Frances, A. J. (2015, December 19). The social cure for mental illness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/saving-normal/201512/the-social-cure-mental-illness
Thoits, P. (1995). Stress, coping, and social support processes: Where are we? What next?” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 53–79. Retrieved from http://www.asanet.org/images/members/docs/pdf/special/jhsb/jhsb_extra_1995_Article_3_Thoits.pdf
Thoits, P. (2006). Personal agency and the stress process. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 47:309–23. doi: 10.1177/002214650604700401
Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. (2003). Social causes of psychological distress. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
Sheridan, A. J., Drennan, J., Coughlan, B., O’Keeffe, D., Frazer, K., Alexander, D.,… O’Callaghan, E. (2015). Improving social functioning and reducing social isolation and loneliness among people with enduring mental illness: Report of a randomized controlled trial of supported socialization. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 61(3), 241-250. doi: 10.1177/0020764014540150
[photo credit]: http://www.centrictv.com/content/centricrd/news-views/business-finance/articles/2014/06/11/decent-paying-jobs-that-don-t-require-a-college-degree/_jcr_content/image.custom0x0.dimg/040513-national-wasting-time-at-work-office-bussiness-businessman-businesswoman-socializing.jpg