All moods may be contagious, but experts say depression isn’t

Click to play video: 'How your friends are feeling is contagious'
How your friends are feeling is contagious
Is your friend in a good mood or a bad mood? Well, according to a new study in the journal Royal Society Open Science, how your friends are feeling is contagious. – Sep 26, 2017

We’ve all heard the phrase that happiness is contagious, but new research suggests others moods can be as well.

According to a recent study published in Royal Society Open Science, authors concluded moods in general — both good and bad — can be contagious.

However, they also note, depression, in particular, wasn’t considered a contagious mood.

“As far as the medical community is concerned, there is more to depression than just sadness, and one of the takeaways from our research is that our results back this up,” Robert Eyre, lead author and PhD student in Complexity Science at the University of Warwick tells Global News. “As depression is more than just low mood, we would not expect it to spread in the same way mood does.”

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To conduct the research, notes, researchers looked at a group of 2,194 students in junior high and high school. The students took part in a series of depression screenings and answered questions about their best friends (who were also part of the study).

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“Overall, kids whose friends suffered from bad moods were more likely to report bad moods themselves — and they were less likely to have improved when they were screened again six months to a year later. When people had more happy friends, on the other hand, their moods were more likely to improve over time,” the site notes.

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Having mentally healthy friends

Eyre adds while surrounding yourself with happy people or those in a good mood won’t resolve something like depression (you should always speak to a health professional if you show any symptoms), it can help.

“Having mentally healthy friends can help someone towards recovering from depression or even remain mentally healthy in the first place,” he says.

For depression specifically, Eyre notes other symptoms such as helplessness, tiredness, and feelings of worthlessness could also be contagious from time to time.

And according to Psychology Today, one 2014 study of college roommates, showed students who had roommates who had the tendency to ruminate, greatly increased the risk of depression for the other student. 

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Eyre adds even though something like sadness can be contagious, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t surround yourself with people who are depressed — in fact, they may need your support more than ever.

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“We found that having more friends with worse mood is associated with both a higher probability of someone worsening in mood and a lower probability of them improving, this effect is usually not strong enough to push you over the line into clinical depression.”

He adds things like exercise, sleeping well and managing stress can also be somewhat contagious. “For depression, as we find that your friends do not put you at risk of illness, a good course of action is simply to support them.”

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And as author Ellen Hendriksen notes, it’s important to keep those relationships with friends who may be depressed and offer support.

“Encourage them to seek help, but know that it may take an incredible amount of bravery on their part (and patience on yours) to take that first step,” she writes in Psychology Today. “But also remember: You can’t rescue your loved one by yourself. You’re up against a host of uncontrollable variables and there may come a point when you need to prioritize saving yourself.”

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