Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review



many people recognize the idea that our social relationships are associated with positive benefits in terms of emotional benefits but what most people don't recognize is that there are physical benefits associated with social relationships as well and while it might not be surprising that people who are more socially isolated may be more likely to commit suicide and be associated with that type of mortality it's perhaps a bit more surprising that individuals who lack sufficient social relationships might actually be at greater risk for mortality from disease processes in 1973 Brigham Young University produced a short film entitled cypher in the snow in which a neglected adolescent who had no friends and absolutely no positive interactions suddenly collapsed and died for no apparent cause other than that he lost the will to live although admittedly an extreme case the film did make the point that our social interactions are not just related to our quality of life but also to the duration of our life the key message of our research is that science has failed to adequately address that social support is not just a psychological variable it is related to physical outcomes poor social functioning predicts death not just distress we've all seen extreme examples of relatively isolated individuals who spiral downward and lose their health but the results of our study suggest that it's not just extreme cases it's not just retired people who suddenly decline in their health faster when they're no longer engaged in social activities it's across all ages and across all people there's actually a number of pathways by which our social relationships can influence our physical health so for instance our relationships can influence our health behaviors and our loved ones can help encourage us to eat healthier to get exercise to see a doctor when we need to to get get sleep or get more sleep but our our social relationships play a huge role in influencing a number of health relevant behaviors but there are also more subtle ways in which our social relationships influence our health as well so for instance our social relationships help us cope with stress in our lives and by doing so we are less likely to suffer the negative health effects and consequences of stress but our social relationships also provide meaning and purpose in our lives and this can be relevant to health as well so for instance many people recognize that married men have lower car insurance rates and part of this is due to lower incidence of car accidents among married men because when we take on various social roles we take on meaning and purpose and we may be more or less likely to engage in in risky behaviors as well people who are involved with others live longer regardless of their initial age or health status humans are innately social we are wired for connectivity over the last few decades there have been a number of changes that may make this topic of greater importance so for instance trends revealed that there are increases in rates of dual income families single resident homes delayed marriage fewer intergenerational living situations and more specifically over the last two decades there's been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who report that they have no confidant and that this is now the modal response in the US and so most of us see increases in technology and globalization as perhaps ways of increasing connections but despite these it appears that people are becoming more socially isolated rather than having greater social connections and some rate research data have shown for decades that social well-being promotes the quality of life over the past several years research now confirms that social support also promotes longevity when we have quality social relationships we live longer and happier lives

Michael Martin

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