Unlike the common cold or a gastro bug, we’ve never thought of depression as a contagious illness – until now that is. Researchers from Indiana’s University of Notre Dame have found that the emotions associated with depression can indeed be passed on to those around you.
Following a group of students as they began the stressful transition into university, the researchers found that their sometimes-gloomy mindsets, which made them vulnerable to depression, made their friends more likely to suffer the same condition six months later.
After following 206 roommates who were in their first year of study and who had been randomly paired up, researchers found that those who were assigned to share a room with someone exhibiting high levels of “cognitive vulnerability” were likely to ‘catch’ their roommate’s thinking habits, which could trigger a vulnerability to developing depression themselves.
The study concluded that this ‘cognitive vulnerability’ is a strong enough risk factor for the illness – so much so that it could be used to predict the likelihood of some people developing it by way of association.
And it worked in reverse too; students who were assigned roommates with more optimistic outlooks were encouraged to think more positively.
The study has re-opened potential doors for work into the treatment of depression by way of altering people’s environments. The research was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.