Is Depression Contagious?

by Erica House

Bad moods and negativity can spread like wildfire. Find out if you're susceptible to the melancholy bug

I don't know if I've ever felt more helpless in my life than when I was dating someone struggling with depression. When we first met he was incredibly spirited, light-hearted and fun to be around. Due to an unfortunate series of events, depression took hold of him in a matter of months and eventually broke apart our relationship. I had never been in this type of situation with someone I cared for before, and I was not prepared for how infectious a negative outlook could be.

Our days quickly started to revolve around his emotional state.

I tried unsuccessfully to do anything I could to alleviate his stress. Ultimately, I realized that I couldn't fix something that I didn't cause. I was torn between helping someone I cared for and protecting my own sanity.

I felt bad being in a good mood around him. I hesitated to make plans to go out and have fun because I anticipated (correctly so, usually) that our time would be less enjoyable since his enthusiasm and energy had become virtually non-existent.

A recent study looking at how 'contagious' negative thinking may be has made me realize that our parting was a blessing in disguise.

Researchers looked at the levels of "cognitive vulnerability" in college students -- that's science speak for those who are more apt to blame negative life events on things outside of their control.

For instance, blaming your boss for a negative performance evaluation, or the weather for why you can't exercise and are thus gaining weight.

Thankfully, I have a very low level of cognitive vulnerability -- if something goes wrong in my life, I take full responsibility and know that it's up to me to change it. Whether or not I do is another story. Still, I can usually recognize that most bad situations can be improved if I put enough energy into it! Understandably, for those who feel like things are out of their control, it can be hard to find the motivation to improve the negative circumstances in their lives.

The researchers collected data from 103 pairs of randomly assigned college roommates. They found that students living with someone who had a high level of cognitive vulnerability were likely to "catch" that cognitive style. Those who displayed an increase in vulnerability in the first three months of college had nearly twice the level of depressive symptoms at six months versus those who did not show an increase.

I found it shocking that such a profound and destructive thought pattern could be transmitted so quickly!

I certainly cannot advocate abandoning a friend or loved one in need, but sometimes it's important to also think of the consequences that being around someone in a perpetual negative state will have on your own emotional health. If you have a friend or loved one who is depressed, the best thing you can do for them is encourage them to get the medical help they need to move forward. While doing what is within the realm of realistic possibilities to help them, always remember that your mental health deserves just as much TLC.

Erica House holds a master's degree in psychology and has been teaching at the university level since 2007. In addition, she is a certified personal trainer and freelance writer who is always trying to learn more and travel farther. After achieving -- and maintaining -- her own 50-pound weight loss, she is passionate about helping others on their journey to lifelong happiness and wellness. She blogs daily on her site


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Article: Copyright © 2013, Studio One.

"Is Depression Contagious?"





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