Friendship–the New Anti-Depressant

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We all know that having friends feels good. It’s great to have someone to laugh and share stories with while also having the assurance that someone has your back if things go wrong. But…can friendship also be an effective means of fighting depression? Can good moods truly be contagious? According to a recent study by Thomas House, senior lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Manchester, the answer to that question is YES!

It has long been suspected that bad moods could be “caught”–in fact, there is even a book on the market titled, Depression is Contagious. The research in this new study however; refutes that claim while yet supporting the notion that good moods can, in fact, be contagious. This is good news for anyone who is battling the case of the blues.

In this study, researchers looked at data from more than 2000 high school students who took a survey of depression symptoms, and who also provided data on their friends over a period of six to twelve months. Students who initially scored as clinically depressed did not appear to “infect” their friends. However; if the clinically depressed student had enough friends who had (what the study referred to as) “healthy moods” (in that they didn’t meet the criteria for clinical depression), it doubled the depressed student’s chances of recovering from their depression. Additionally, those students who weren’t depressed in the first place cut their chances of developing depression in half simply by hanging out with emotionally healthy friends. That’s a fairly significant effect and supports previous research showing that high quality relationships do in fact lower a person’s risk of depression.

What about the reverse though? If happiness is contagious–why does the new study suggest that the same is not true for depression? House states that the model for this most recent study has an advantage over other previous studies that seemed to suggest that depressive symptoms tended to appear in clusters within social networks. House believes that when there are clusters of people who are depressed, there is most likely a third factor at play; perhaps they are all “heavily drinking or they are all doing something else that makes them more predisposed to depression”, House says. When speaking of the new study however; House states that “our method wasn’t susceptible to that because we looked at direct changes of state. We were…directly observing this process of your friend influencing you and the nice conclusion that we got was that your friends can protect you from depression and help you to recover from it.”

Even if depression can’t actually be caught per se, it is important to note that spending time with a depressed friend can still take a toll. House states, “we’re not saying that you have no negative effect on your friends’ mood but just that it isn’t enough to push them into full clinical depression.”

What then does this mean for emotionally healthy individuals who are friends with someone who struggles with depression? One theory of social support and depression suggests that whether relationships have a positive effect or not, depends upon if the depressed individual feels as though the relationship is meeting his/her basic psychological needs–autonomy, competence and relatedness. For example, a friend who helps out a depressed individual by lending a hand with chores or errands can have a positive impact on that individual’s emotional state but only if the depressed individual sees the help as an expression of love rather than something that is taking away his/her control.

Certainly, having a relationship with someone who is depressed can be a challenge. It’s hard to hear a friend say negative things about herself and it is hard to know how to help. However; according to House’s new research, it appears that simply being present can make an impactful difference. This is FabYOUlous news for all who struggle with the burden of depression as well as for those who love them.


Rockin' a FabYOUlous life as an author, speaker, blogger, coach and consumer of way too much caffeine. Let me help you to ditch the drab and find your FAB--it's possible and it's FUN!

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