Background: The importance of social connectedness in supporting public mental health is well established. However, the reverse causal pathway (that psychological ill-health leads to reduced social connectedness) remains a dominant perspective among mental health practitioners. Our analysis aimed to provide a rigorous test of the directionality of this relationship.
Method: A cross-lagged panel analysis of a large longitudinal national probability sample ( N ≈ 21,227), the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Survey, was used to assess the bidirectional longitudinal relationship between social connectedness and mental health, controlling for baseline levels of both variables and demographics.
Results: Social connectedness was found to be a stronger and more consistent predictor of mental health year-on-year than mental health was of social connectedness.
Conclusion: These results further demonstrate how the psychological resources conferred by social connectedness can act as a 'social cure' for psychological ill-health, and provide the strongest evidence to date for the direction of this relationship in the general community.
Keywords: Social connectedness; depression; mental health; psychological distress; social capital; wellbeing.