Is Depression contagious?  I asked that question on our  Facebook page the other day and the resounding response from both people who answered was that yes, depression is contagious.

I have wondered about that myself lately and have to agree that I believe depression is contagious.  It’s not a virus or bacteria.  However, we do tend to become what we surround ourselves with.  That’s one of the reasons parents fret over their children’s friends and choices because they do influence us.  It takes conscientious focus to not misstep and begin to believe what seems to be true around us.

What we see, hear and experience on a repetitive basis tends to influence our beliefs and subsequently our perceptions of the world around us.

That is one of the reasons I try to be guarded about how and when I read, listen to or watch the news.  While I want to have an understanding of issues in the world, the focus of what we consider to be “the news” is certainly jaded and one sided even if it is considered to be true.

Hang around someone who always sees themselves as a victim and dwells mainly on the negative in life and soon you too can adopt their perception as your own if you fail to remain conscious of evidence to the contrary.

Ever buy a different car and suddenly notice that there seems to be a plethora of others who just bought exactly the same car?  We know they didn’t really buy their car on the same day, but we suddenly become aware of it.  It no longer is part of the periphery of our life but comes clearly into focus.

Is it that seeing is believing?  Or is it really that believing is seeing?  The infinite loop.

Back to the question, is depression contagious.  While being guarded about my news consumption I stumbled upon a CNN article originally in magazine by Maia Szalavitz.  It asked that very question.

The article talks about a study from Notre Dame University that was done using 108 incoming college first years.  Ok, not  a huge study but relevant all the same.  The article explains,

Although many people see depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain, scientists say social context and the way you see yourself and the world can be critical in causing and sustaining the illness, which affects around 10% of college-age adults.

The lead author, Gerald Haeffel, associate professor of clinical psychology at Notre Dame University says he and the team found that thinking styles, how we react to our negative experiences and moods, is a valid gauge for the likelihood of future depression.  Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.  He also says that our thinking patterns are rather set by high school age.  In other words, it is imperative to help our children learn how to deal with negative things from day one to give them the best or at least maybe easiest chance at developing their resilience.

Of course other things can trigger depression and just because some of us might start life out as individuals who show characteristics which may lead to depression does not in anyway mean we are doomed to become depressed adults.  That being said, learning from birth how to become resilient just sounds like a good insurance plan.

The study used surveys and studied two types of thinking styles considered relevant in depression:  rumination, or constantly brooding about what’s happening; and hopelessness which has self worth implications as well.

They found that hopelessness did not appear to be contagious.   However, rumination certainly did.  It should be noted that the depression symptoms themselves weren’t contagious.

But those who picked up a ruminative style of thinking from their roommates during the first three months of school had more than double the number of depressive symptoms of those who either weren’t exposed to this perspective or didn’t adopt the rumination three months later. And the risk was magnified if they experienced high levels of stress.

The study also found, however, that healthy thinking was also contagious.

So, I guess the idea of surrounding ourselves with people who are examples of what we want to be and how we want to live our lives isn’t such a bad idea after all.

For more information on the whether or not depression might be contagious and other experiences like childhood trauma, that may trigger future depression check out these links:

Please note that Rise Like Air does not take any responsibility for content of external links once you leave this blog.

Rashness & Rumination: New Understanding About the Roots of Depression: Two studies explore some of the developmental roots of depression in childhood and adolescence. By Maia Szalavitz

How Childhood Trauma May Make the Brain Vulnerable to Addiction, Depression by Maia Szalavitz 

Is Depression Contagious? By Sian Beilock in Choke

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