Not just phone calls, according to a new study, you should visit your friends and your family three time per week.
A study conducted by the Oregon Health & Science University showed face-to-face interaction works like a vitamin for a person’s emotional health. Led by Dr. Alan Teo, a psychiatry professor, the team looked into the emotional effects of frequent social contact.
The study involved over 11,000 American adults who took part in the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Survey. The participants are 50 years old and above. The frequencies of their social contacts were collected every two years from 2004 to 2010, which includes over-the-phone, written, and face-to-face interactions with family and friends.
The team then looked for symptoms or risk of developing depression among the participants. They took into consideration external factors such as health profiles, history of depression, and distance from family and friends.
The findings showed that participants who have more face-to-face interactions with family and friends (once or twice a week) have only a 7.3 percent risk of developing symptoms of depression. On the other hand, participants who have less personal interactions can carry as high as 11.3 percent risk wherein the level of face-to-face interactions was limited to once every few months or even less.
Interestingly, the regularity of emails and phone calls bears no significant impact on the depression’s symptoms and risk levels. Dr. Helen Lavretsky from the University of California said that sending emails can help in lowering the levels of social isolation. However, humans are ‘communal animals’ who need to feel that they belong in a society, she added. She made references to studies proving the health benefits of attending church, which could play a part in making a person feel that they belong in a community or in the society of other people. Lavretsky also handles the UCLA’s late-life mood, stress, and wellness research program at Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
Psychiatry professor Dr. Holly Swartz from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine commended face-to-face interaction because it has a ‘protective’ effect against depression. Face-to-face conversations are crucial despite the many ways people can converse through technology.
Dr. Michael Thase from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine supports Swartz’s claim by stating that the mental health benefits can be traced to the comfort a person feels when talking to someone face-to-face.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States have estimated that 9.5 percent of American adults will develop depression in a year.
It could be argued that the research team only surveyed adults older than 50. However, the researchers believe that the findings are also applicable to young adults. The team is gearing up for another study that involves Millennials or adults who are currently in their 20s. Teo is hopeful that the results will be more positive and depression levels will be relatively low with the help of social media interaction.
The research was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on Oct. 6, 2015.