Relationships and their Impact on Mental Health

Share this article

By Catherine Wachira, PMHNP

Studies have shown that engaging in high quality close relationships leads to improved
mental and physical well-being (Canvello & Crocker, 2010). However, barriers such as physical
illness or social anxiety can lead a person to be home bound and unable to socialize. Others
might easily make friends but keeping them might be difficult. No matter what the reason is, we
should all strive to engage in quality relationships. Social isolation and lack of close ties is linked
to poor health and increased mortality risk.
Relationships are broad and include romantic relationships, friendships, child-parent
relationships, and even the ties that we have with coworkers. There are also relationships that can
negatively affect us by enabling and promoting negative behavior. One must be diligent in
identifying relationships that are beneficial and do not have a negative impact in overall
wellbeing. Poor social support negatively impacts depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) (Tough et al., 2017).
Relationships also have a long-lasting impact on children and teens. The relationship that
a caregiver establishes with a child since infancy and throughout childhood affects the child’s
expectations about the self, the world, and others (Spruit et al., 2020). If caregivers are
responsive to the needs of an infant and meet the basic needs, the attachment is stronger, and the
infant learns to trust the world around them. If a caregiver fails to meet the basic requirements,
children are more likely to develop insecure attachment relationships. Insecure attachment is
associated with internalizing problems including depression, increased stress, and poor emotion
regulation. Teens with attachment problems are also more likely to experience depressive
symptoms (Spruit et al., 2020).

Individuals in committed relationships engage in less risky behavior such as drinking and
driving. They are also less likely to be overweight and less likely to experience mental health
problems. Marriage has been found to encourage individuals to divide labor, pool assets, and
focus on behavior that benefits both individuals.
In summary, we should aim to engage in meaningful relationships even if it means
getting out of our comfort zones and socialize more. These relationships may include child-
parent relationships, grandparents visiting their grandchildren, and meaningful friendships. It
may also mean setting boundaries on relationships that negatively affect us.

References:

Canevello A, Crocker J. Creating good relationships: responsiveness, relationship quality,
and interpersonal goals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 Jul;99(1):78-106. doi: 10.1037/a0018186.
PMID: 20565187; PMCID: PMC2891543.
Scott R. Briarwhite, Raquel Delevi, & Frank D. Fincham. (2010). Romantic relationships
and the physical and mental health of college students. Personal Relationships, 17.
Spruit, A., Goos, L., Weenink, N. et al. (2020). The Relation Between Attachment and
Depression in Children and Adolescents: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis. Clinical Child Family
Psychology Review 23, 54–69 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-019-00299-9
Tough H, Siegrist J, Fekete C. (2017). Social relationships, mental health and wellbeing
in physical disability: a systematic review. BMC Public Health. 17(1):414. doi: 10.1186/s12889-
017-4308-6.