According to the World Health Organization, more than 350 million people globally suffer from depression.
With these staggering numbers, you would think that depression spreads just by having regular contact with those who suffer from the disorder. However, a groundbreaking study proves that depression does not spread among friends – happiness, on the other hand, does. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed data compiled from over 2,000 teenagers who reported their network of friendships and level of happiness based on questions given to them.
Based on these results, the researchers running the study gave students a “low mood” (depressed) classification, or a “healthy mood” (not depressed) label. After obtaining these results, they ran them through a computer program in order to determine whether depression and/or happiness was contagious or not.
Here are the results of the study:
While happiness can spread like wildlife, and even prevent depression, depression itself does not pass from one person to another. The researchers inferred from the computer model that teens with 5 or more “healthy mood” friends have half the chance of suffering from depression over a six to 12-month period than those without happy friends.
Furthermore, teens with 10 or more happy friends have double the probability of bouncing back from depression over that same time period.
Professor Frances Griffiths, head of social science and systems in health at Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, said, “Depression is a major public health concern worldwide. But the good news is we’ve found that a healthy mood amongst friends is linked with a significantly reduced risk of developing and increased chance of recovering from depression.”
A second author of the paper, Dr. Thomas House, senior lecturer in applied mathematics from the University of Manchester, said, “It could be that having a stronger social network is an effective way to treat depression. More work needs to be done but it may be that we could significantly reduce the burden of depression through cheap, low-risk social interventions.
This study suggests that having healthy friendships can only help, not hurt, one’s chances of recovering from depression. Furthermore, it proves that the risk of “catching” depression from someone else is virtually nonexistent, which eliminates some of the stigma surrounding depression.
“If we enable friendships to develop among adolescents (for example providing youth clubs) each adolescent is more likely to have enough friends with healthy mood to have a protective effect,” House said in a prepared statement. “This would reduce the prevalence of depression.”
Unfortunately, many people today report feeling lonely and isolated, and one study found that loneliness is a more deadly disease than even obesity. With the rise of social media, more demanding jobs, and more hectic home lives, many people simply struggle to find time to socialize, or feel too tired or unmotivated after taking care of other needs.
While one might expect only older people to suffer from loneliness, it affects a surprising number of young people as well. Having a close circle of friends helps us feel connected, loved, and supported, while not feeling close to anyone feeds symptoms of loneliness and depression.
So, how can you overcome depression and cultivate healthy friendships?
Depression doesn’t just go away overnight; it takes diligence and commitment to improving one’s mental health in order to leave depression behind. However, you can do a few things to get back on the road toward happiness and start changing your perspective:
1. Start doing activities you enjoy in your area.
Don’t worry about making friends immediately; they will come once you learn to become your own best friend and do things that make you feel vibrant and happy. You could look up local groups and activities on Facebook or even your Chamber of Commerce website if you need some ideas on what you can do in your area. Friendships thrive on having some common interests, so one way to find happy friends is to get involved in things you enjoy, whether that be yoga, art classes, paddleboarding, sewing, or anything in between.