National Friendship Day occurred earlier this month to spotlight the ways in which friendships can increase an individual’s quality of life. Recent research has found that strong social relationships can also have health benefits, decreasing a person’s risk of mortality. Friendships and connections within the community have the power to influence an individual’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.
A 2010 meta-analysis led by Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad entitled “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review” determined that friendships and other interpersonal relationships are positively associated with survival. Individuals with strong relationships had a 50 percent “higher likelihood of survival” than those who did not have consistent social relationships. Researchers reviewed 148 studies with a total of approximately 308,000 participants and found that these results were consistent with different ages, sexes, health statuses and causes of death. This meta-analysis concludes that “the influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality,” such as smoking (Holt-Lunstad ,2010).
Holt-Lunstad explains that romantic relationships, friendships, perceptions of relationships and participation within an individual’s community are all included in these findings as contributing to mortality rates. She suggests this data has to do with the fact that friends provide support during difficult times, stating, “As we encounter potentially stressful events in our lives, if we know that we’ve got people we can count on or that we can turn to, we may be less likely to even perceive it as stressful, because we already know we can handle it. But also, let’s say we’re already in the throes of some kind of stressful event, our relationships can also help us cope with it and buffer that reaction to the stress.” (Rettner, 2010)
A 2008 study at the University of Virginia concludes that the quality of friendships also impacts an individual’s mental health. This study consisted of 34 students placed at the bottom of a steep hill with a weighted backpack, who were each told to estimate the steepness of said hill. Some of these students stood with friends and others stood alone. According to the study, an individual’s perception regarding the steepness of the hill was directly related to his or her relationships to nearby classmates. Those standing next to friends they had known for relatively long periods of time measured the hill as less steep upon first glance than those standing alone or standing next to acquaintances or short-term friends (Parker-Pope, 2009).
Though friends can help you cope during difficult and/or stressful times, professional help is recommended if mental health issues are present. If you or a loved one is struggling with these issues, such as anxiety or depression, help is available. The California Mental Health Helpline is a facility that specializes in treating individuals dealing with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call us to speak with a professional today.