Socialization, identity, and well being

Withdrawal from social activity typically is seen as an indication, a symptom in medical jargon, of some serious underlying emotional disturbance. For this reason, consider the reverse, I think it is hardly surprising that researchers in Australia should find membership in social groups improves mental health. The story, as reported in The Times of India, bears the headline Social groups improve mental health. Such membership in social groups enhances physical health as well apparently.

Belonging to groups, such as networks of friends, family, clubs and sport teams, improves mental health because groups provide support, help you to feel good about yourself and keep you active. But belonging to many different groups might also help to make you psychologically and physically stronger. People with multiple group memberships cope better when faced with stressful situations such as recovering from stroke and are even more likely to stay cold-free when exposed to the cold virus.

Soldier heart rates were shown to slow down after toboggan rides at a faster rate if they belonged to a larger number of social groups. Students were found to be able to keep a hand in ice water longer if they belonged to more social groups.

Researchers Janelle Jones and Jolanda Jetten of the University of Queensland were interested in how group memberships might give people the resilience to face novel and aversive challenges.

Oddly enough, they found that such group membership did increase stamina and resilience.

“The identity that we gain from our group memberships helps us to develop a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning. This gives us the psychological strength to endure and recover physical challenges,” the researcher added.

These studies have set me to thinking about another sort of study I’d like to see conducted. What if we were to take a certain number mental health consumers, and have them join a wide array of different social groups. What if we could make sure the social groups they were enrolled in were not mental health consumer groups. We could even call such a study “treatment” if it were proven particularly effective. I envision people coming out of such a study, and ceasing to consume mental health services, but then I’m an optimist.