top of page

Social Networks and Mental Health

Social Networks and Mental Health


Mental health problems can spread via wide networks. Adolescents with a friend, who has attempted suicide, had an increased risk of suicidal ideation / attempts while having a suicidal relative increased ideation. Dense social networks may help girls rather than boys in reducing suicidal ideation. The authors concluded the relative position in the network was important here (Christakis 2008a). Individuals with schizophrenia who had less than 5 hours of social contact with a significant other had a higher risk of lifetime suicide attempts than those who had more contacts (chi2=4.08 df=1 p<0.005) (Ramdosky 1999).


Using the Framingham data, the authors showed that smoking behaviour can be altered by local network changes, with those with higher education tending to be more influenced by their peers. Shared environmental effects may not be heavily involved here, as geographically distant individuals still affected each other. People tended to copy behaviour in those people they nominated themselves for friends (Christakis 2008a),


Depression is also associated with smaller social networks, reduced numbers of close friends and lack of social support, though it can be hard to distinguish this from the effect of personality (Kawachi 2001). Those with mental illness who displayed violence, tended to have larger networks composed mainly of relatives (Estroff 1994). There is evidence that those with mental illness tend to have smaller networks than the general population. (Albert 1998). A further study looking at violence in mental health patients found that those with poor function had a higher level of violence, if the frequency of contact with their families were high, but if they had a good level of function then higher frequency of social contact was associated with lower levels of violence (Swanson 1998). A study which looked at depression in Mexican immigrants in the USA found that the type of emotional support offered by family may influence the effect that social contact can have (Vega 1991). Another example of the complex interaction between social contact and other social variables is illustrated by a study which looked at 74 schizophrenic out-patient’s, one finding was that the length of previous admissions was higher with greater numbers of social contacts outside the family and that subjective feelings of loneliness were probably more important (Hirschberg 1985).


Some feel that inclusion in a social group is an evolutionary priority, so much so that without it we are more likely to suffer harm. Being removed from a social group can impair thought, self-regulation and make people more aggressive. These people also become better at recognising and identifying facial emotion, they become more sociable. Presumably so that regaining a place social group in achieved. Loss and gain of social bonds may lead to behaviours designed to meet other needs e.g., if you’re on your own then you need to eat before you can mate, etc. (Brown 2009).

Influencer with a bike
bottom of page