New research has revealed that having mentally healthy friends can help someone recover from depression or even remain mentally healthy in the first place.
But, crucially, having depressed friends does not make you more likely to become depressed yourself. In other words, the results indicate that healthy mood spreads through social networks but depression does not, which is important since there is a stigma attached to depression.
The results indicate that being friends with someone who is depressed does not put you at risk of becoming depressed yourself and it is likely to help the depressed person recover.
Academics from the University of Manchester and the University of Warwick collaborated on the study, which is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
They looked at over 2,000 U.S. high school students and tracked how their moods influenced each other by using methods similar to those used to track the spread of infectious diseases.
The team found that while depression does not “spread,” having enough friends with healthy moods can halve the probability of developing, or double the probability of recovering from, depression over a 6-12 month period.
Thomas House, DPhil, senior lecturer in applied mathematics from the University of Manchester, one of the authors of the study, said: “We know social factors-for example, living alone or having experienced abuse in childhood-influence whether someone becomes depressed. We also know that social support is important for recovery from depression-for example, having people to talk to.
“Our study is slightly different as it looks at the effect of being friends with people on whether you are likely to develop or recover from being depressed.
“This was a big effect that we have seen here. 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 article was adapted from information provided by the University of Manchester.