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