Can you CATCH depression? Being surrounded by gloomy people can make you prone to illness

April 22, 2013 6:52 pm 0 comments Views: 2320

Depression and the emotions associated with it can be contagious, according to a new study.

Researchers have found that the gloomy mindset of students vulnerable to depression can be catching, making their friends more likely to suffer the condition six months later.

The research follows studies showing that people who respond negatively to stressful life events – interpreting them as the result of factors they can’t change and as a reflection of their own shortcomings –  are more vulnerable to depression.


Contagious: The study found that those who had close contact with people suffering from depression were more likely to develop it themselves

This ‘cognitive vulnerability’ is such a strong risk factor for depression that it can be used to predict who is likely to experience depression in the future.

Doctors Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames, of Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, said that this vulnerability seemed to establish itself in early adolescence but remain stable throughout adulthood.

They followed 206 room mates who had been paired up randomly, all of whom had just started their first year of university.

The results revealed that students who were assigned to a room mate with high levels of cognitive vulnerability were likely to ‘catch’ their room mate’s style of thinking and develop a vulnerability to depression themselves.

Depression can be an incredibly isolating experience


Depression can be an incredibly isolating experience

The reverse was also true. Those assigned to room mates who were not prone to depression experienced decreases in their own levels negative thinking.

The result showed that students who developed an increase in depressive thinking in the first three months of college, had nearly twice the level of depressive symptoms at six months than those who didn’t show such an increase.

Dr Haeffel said it provided ‘striking evidence’ for the contagion theory.

He added that the findings suggest that altering a person’s environment could be used a part of a treatment for depression because a person’s vulnerability fluctuates over time.

He said: ‘Our study demonstrates that cognitive vulnerability has the potential to wax and wane over time depending on the social context.

‘This means that cognitive vulnerability should be thought of as plastic rather than immutable.’

The research is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.


Depression and anxiety are the most common mental disorders in the UK.

It is thought up to 7 million Britons experience some of depression each year.

Depression is far more severe than just feeling sad.

Sufferers often experience feelings of despair and anxiety, develop insomnia, changes in appetite and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts.

Depression can occur in anyone. Chronic stress, traumatic events, drug and alcohol abuse, a family history of mental health problems and, as this new study shows, even being surrounded by people who are negative can trigger the condition.

Treatment usually involves a combination of anti-depressants and psychotherapy.


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