There is a strong link between the benefits of social connections and good mental health. Research has shown that people with strong social connections have lower rates of anxiety and depression, increased self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships. There are additional health benefits such as a strengthened immune system and lengthened life.
Another benefit of strong social connections in addition to making you happier is the cyclical effect, as people want to spend more time with you it generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
Profound transformations in biological, neurological, cognitive and social development take place during adolescence. Those changes leave teens vulnerable to developing depression, however, close family relationships can reduce the risks. The protective factors derived from strong family ties can be a preventative measure against developing depression. There is research that shows the benefit of a close family relationship doesn’t just end during adolescence, it follows them into adulthood.
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) was a nationwide study that followed over 20,000 adolescents from grade 7-12 into adulthood. They started in 1995 and conducted five interviews over the course of the study, with the most recent interview in 2017. The data collected includes surveys on the respondent’s social, economic, psychological, and physical wellbeing as well as accompanying data on the family, neighborhood, community, school, friendships, peer groups, and romantic relationships. This information provides a unique opportunity to compare how social environments and behaviors in adolescents are linked to health and achievement outcomes in young adulthood.
The study clearly indicated that the mental health benefits of cohesive family relationships during adolescence lasts through midlife (the last age interviewed in 2017). Those individuals in the study who had experienced positive family relationships throughout childhood had significant lower levels of depressive symptoms from early adolescence to midlife.
Adolescents and family members develop positive feelings by living in a cohesive home with someone who understands, cares, and spends time together as a family. The absence of parental-child conflict develops a trust and attachment, reinforcing parental support and approval. Close family ties provide sources of social and emotional support encouraging development of skills for coping with changing and cumulative stressors.
Families can use a preventive approach to foster long-term healthy mental development for their children into adulthood. Parents and family members can nurture positive family relationships with their adolescents. They can ensure that they show affection and understanding for each other, spend time together, and work through any conflicts.
Depression is an extremely complex mental disorder. The results of the study do not imply that adolescents in less cohesive families are sure to develop depression. There are many factors involved, such as genetics, serious illness, and abuse, which all can increase the risk of developing depression. For those teens who lack the strong family ties, they may be able to find support and gain coping skills through other social connections with friends, recreational groups, schools and religious institutions, as well as in the community.
The important factor is that youth must learn the skills and strategies to cope with emotional issues to promote positive mental health throughout adolescence and into adulthood. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, contact Aspire Counseling Services in Bakersfield, California.