“Social connectedness can act as a ‘social cure’ for psychological ill-health.”
In the research, mental (ill-)health was operationalised as psychological distress. The fully cross-lagged stationary panel analysis (see the figure) strongly predicts that someone socially connected will remain socially connected a year later (0.86) and less strongly predicts that someone in psychological distress is likely to still be in psychological distress a year later (0.62). For this research, the interest was in the cross terms. Lack of social connectedness (e.g. loneliness) predicts psychological distress a year later (-0.15) more so than psychological distress predicts lack of social connectedness (e.g. loneliness) a year later (-0.05).
In medical and psychiatric contexts, lack of social connectedness (or poor social functioning) is frequently considered to be an outcome of a mental health condition. Rarely is lack of social connectedness (e.g. loneliness) considered a risk factor for mental health and a point of early intervention. However, an implication of this research is that medical and psychiatric professionals should reconsider poor social health (e.g. loneliness) as a point of early intervention before more serious mental health issues develop. Furthermore, good social health provides a preventative measure for mental health.
A non-stationary model of the lagged relationships between social connectedness and psychological distress had a better fit than a stationary model – which suggested that the relationship may vary over time. However, the time-varying nature of the relationships could be caused by the Christchurch earthquake between waves 2 and 3, which caused psychological trauma for residents.