New research looking at how moods can spread over social network groups has shown that while they can indeed be “catching”, depression is not. This is an interesting find in the face of growing prevalence of depression in teens.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression affects approximately 350 million people around the world. The fact that teen depression, in particular, is on the rise is a serious cause for concern. A study last year revealed that reports of major depressive episodes (MDEs) among young people jumped 37 percent between 2005 and 2014.
This new study, led by researchers from the University of Warwick and published in Royal Society Open Science, looked at how individuals are affected by their friends’ moods, how moods can spread through a group, and whether depression can too. Their findings revealed that though the symptoms of depression – such as feelings of helplessness or loss of interest – can be socially contagious, being affected by your friends’ moods is not enough to give you depression.
The team analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and used mathematical modeling to discover that the more friends you have suffering from low moods, the more likely you are to suffer too, and the harder it is to improve. The opposite effect was found in people with a more positive social circle.
"Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual's emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts,” said lead author Rob Eyre in a statement.
"Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression."
Although their study showed that friends’ low moods aren’t enough to push someone into depression, the researchers were keen to point out that it is just as important to study and support people exhibiting sub-threshold level symptoms of depression.
“Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life, and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all,” co-author Frances Griffiths said.
"The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents."