Many people find it hard to open their hearts and share their feelings and problems. However, social interaction where people can talk out their problems and feel accepted and understood is very beneficial to mental health.
When I was nursing my wife through cancer and knowing she would not survive, I kept my feelings to myself to be strong for my wife and child. The mental strain was causing stress headaches, trapped muscles, sleeplessness as well as mental anguish. I found a colleague who I could express my feelings to (which I had felt were selfish to admit to) and after regular talks and tears, my headaches and tension eased considerably. The stress was still there and got worse with the bereavement, but the physical and mental strain was never as overwhelming once I began to share with others.
Another way social interaction can help health is that it can challenge distortions that we often build up through our belief systems and experiences. I have found that when I was unemployed and living on my own in a new place, I was on my own for a lot of the time and things that were not normally significant took on much more importance and ideas/beliefs were distorted. When I returned to interacting with others in work, the things that caused annoyance or mild distress faded into insignificance. This is expressed really well in Totmans book Mind, Stress and Health as "Social support modulates the appraisal of stress and on its own helps to protect health by keeping the system toned up and vigilant against natural, ever present pathological inclinations."
Doctor McClintock, Director of the Institute for Mind and Biology, found that rats living in groups lived 40% longer than those housed by themselves and also recovered more quickly from illness. This experiment has been extended to comparing lonely and social humans and although the trial is...