Is Depression Contagious? BrainsWay

Is Depression Contagious?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect the world at large, concerns over other forms of infection are gaining attention, as well. This is the case with mental health conditions, and particularly the more prevalent and debilitating ones. Chief among them is depression, one of the most common mental health conditions across the globe. Its widespread occurrence and potentially grave ramifications have many asking, is depression contagious, and if so, under what conditions. Read on to find out more about this possibility, and how it can be managed.

Is Depression Contagious

What is Depression, and How Does It Develop?

Depression is a mood disorder, and indeed the central mood disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Its two key symptoms are:

  • A persistently low mood.
  • An inability to feel joy.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Severe sadness.
  • A sense of hopelessness.
  • A feeling of emptiness.
  • Irritability.
  • Difficulty concentrating and distractibility.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Weight fluctuations when not dieting.
  • Low self-confidence.
  • Self-isolation.
  • Suicidal ideation.

According to the APA, one in 15 US adults contends with depression, with 17.1 million US adults reporting experiencing depression at least once in their life.

A number of depression risk factors have been identified. They include:

  • Genetics.
  • Functional abnormalities in the brain.
  • Personality Traits: High neuroticism and low extraversion have been found to be associated with depression. Neuroticism is defined by negative emotionality and distress, causing the individual to assume the worst will happen. Low extraversion, also known as introversion, is defined by introspection, astute observation skills, creativity and being attuned to their own feelings and those of others. While these are all positive aspects of being an introvert, their natural inclination to turn inward when faced with a negative mood can bring on self-isolation, creating a sense of loneliness and preventing them from receiving the support of others.
  • Gender: Between the onset of puberty and menopause, women are 1.5-3 times more likely than men to develop depression. Girls/women ages 14-25 have the highest prevalence of this disorder. Young girls and postmenopausal women have roughly the same chance of developing depression as their male counterparts.
  • Age: Chances of depression increase dramatically upon entering puberty, and peak during one’s early 20s. US adults between the ages of 18-29 are 3 times likelier to develop depression than those who are 60 or older.
  • Environmental factors: This ranges from the prenatal environment in the womb, abuse during childhood, the loss of a parent during childhood, living through natural disasters, economic hardships, and more.

Depression is also found in higher comorbidity with a number of other mental health disorders. Among them are:

Depression has a high comorbidity rate with several physical ailments, as well, with 20% of cases with chronic physical conditions also contending with depression.

Physical issues with a high comorbidity with depression include:

  • Cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke, such as stroke, heart failure, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
  • Dementia.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Can You ‘Catch’ Depression?

The idea that depression is contagious makes a certain innate sense if one considers the “infectious” quality of a mood. An individual in a bad mood can influence those around them, causing others to feel aggravated, sad, or unenthusiastic as a result.

The American Psychological Association (also known as the APA) defines a mood as an emotional state that can last anywhere from hours to several weeks. A mood is usually of a rather low intensity, as opposed to an outburst. And unlike emotions themselves, moods tend to be perceived as a more general experience that is not necessarily derived or directly toward any particular object or trigger.

Taken as an example, receiving an aggressive comment from someone while driving may induce a feeling of anger. But while this same incident may result in an eventual “bad mood,” the individual experiencing it may not necessarily be able to trace their mood to the inciting incident; instead, they might find themselves less patient or more defensive with others at work, without arriving at a possible explanation for their disposition.

Indeed, moods have been shown to be transmittable, or infectious, passing from one individual to another. This appears to be true both in real-life group settings, and through social media—if one spends their time with individuals who tend to be happy, sad, irritable, ambitious, etc., they are more likely to become so themselves.

Yet, when looking to see whether depression is communicable, researchers made an interesting discovery: namely, that while one’s mood could be transmittable, their depression was not.

According to recent studies, this is because depression was not found to be brought on by a bad mood, which is much more transient than depression. More specifically, while being in a positive mood can help someone else rise out of depression, being in a negative mood does not tend to push others into depression.

Together, these findings delineate the relationship between emotions and depression. A compassionate and hopeful friend, for example, can help someone out of their depression. Similarly, an individual close to someone who is cynical and with a negative outlook might become moody themselves, but it will not cause them to develop depression. In other words, it takes more than a “bad influence” to bring on depression.

is depression communicable

How to Treat Depression

Though depression has not been found to be contagious, receiving support for this condition certainly can be. Today’s depression treatments include several courses, from antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, and medical device treatments, namely the FDA-cleared transcranial magnetic stimulation. Patients considering the different available options should consult their doctor over aspects such as efficacy, tolerability, and the ability to confine several different types of treatments, for an increased effect.