Psyche: A healthy group of friends often protects against depression

Psyche: A healthy group of friends often protects against depression

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Cheerful friends protect against depression
According to a new study, five healthy friends for teenagers are enough to greatly reduce the risk of developing depression. British researchers came to this conclusion using mathematical models. Health experts are skeptical, however.

Risk of depression decreases through healthy friends
The more mentally healthy friends adolescents have, the lower their risk of developing depression. Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK came to this conclusion with the help of computing models, reports the dpa news agency. And depressed people could recover better in the company of healthy friends, as the scientists around mathematician Edward Hill reported in their study presented in “Proceedings B” by the British Royal Society.

A good mood can be contagious
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In this country, more and more young people have to get treatment for depression. The disease is often associated with a social stigma. Scientists in the UK have examined, among other things, the likelihood of the mental illness spreading among friends. They said that their results indicate that depression is not widespread - at least not as long as affected adolescents have enough healthy friends. In addition, the good mood of friends can prevent a crash. According to the study, the reverse was true: According to this, depression spreads like an infectious disease, but a healthy state of mind does not.

Experts are skeptical
However, these conclusions are met with skepticism in psychiatric practice. "The study is not really clinically relevant because it describes something that we already know: stable children have good social contacts and become less depressed," explained the chairman of the federal working group of senior clinical doctors for child and adolescent psychiatry, psychosomatics and psychotherapy, Martin Young. In addition, the study lacked a measure of the severity of the depression. "I think it is unlikely that severely depressed children with positive social contacts can be infected, so to speak," said Jung. Severely depressed children would break off contact with healthy friends and vice versa. According to health experts, it is a typical sign of depression that people tend to turn away from others. This has recently been pointed out by pediatricians who have expressed concern about children with mental health problems.

Depressed people break off contacts
If the contacts are broken, it is part of the clinical work to revive them. "Positive contacts are certainly a protective factor, but the study has not shown that a cure would be possible," said Jung. Sibylle Winter from the Charité Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy in Childhood and Adolescence also has doubts, according to the dpa report. “From clinical practice, I cannot understand that the depressive mood should not spread. At least you should check that again. ”In circles of friends there would also be more like-minded people. The researchers from England preempted such an accusation. "We made sure that our method was not affected by homophilia - the tendency to make friends with similar people," Hill said in a message. The team of scientists justifies its discovery with psychological mechanisms. For example, depressed people tend to withdraw from their social environment and therefore have less influence on others than healthy people. However, those who want to recover from depression or stay healthy need contact with non-depressed people.

Data examined using mathematical models
The team used data from 3,084 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 who were interviewed in the United States in 1994 and 1995 for their investigation. The participants in the then "Add Health" study provided information about sadness and lack of interest, appetite, sleep or the feeling of worthlessness. The British researchers have re-examined this information using mathematical models. Similar methods are said to be used to study the spread of infectious diseases. The calculations showed that those who have at least five healthy friends are twice as likely to fail to become depressed within six to twelve months than those without healthy friends. And depressed adolescents recover twice as often when they have ten healthy friends instead of three. The University of Manchester mathematician Thomas House, who was part of the Hill team, said that the number of cases of depression among adolescents could be reduced by, for example, promoting friendship through youth clubs. This also increases the likelihood of having enough healthy friends. (ad)

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