Monday, April 22, 2013

Is Depression Contagious?

Following up on my post, What Doesn’t Kill You…, I am happy to report that researchers at the University of Notre Dame have shown that depression is “contagious.”

If you are surrounded by people who think negatively, you are more likely to acquire the habit of negative thinking.

Apparently, we all try to harmonize with our social environment. Surround yourself with people who think pessimistically and you will develop the habit of thinking pessimistically.

As the old saying goes: misery loves company. Your depressed friends will be happy to share their pain with you. It will make them feel that they are right to be depressed. If you, on your side, have a special talent for empathy, you will be even more vulnerable. 

If depression is a bad cognitive habit, then it cannot be treated by discovering the underlying cause, thus, by discovering why it is a meaningful experience.

If it is a bad habit, it is not a meaningful experience. Instead of trying to find out what it means you should replace it with a good habit... thinking optimistically.

How can you do it? One way is, by choosing your friends better.

For some time now we have known that people who indulge in pessimistic thinking are more prone to depression. The Daily Mail reports:

The research follows studies showing that people who respond negatively to stressful life events - interpreting them as the result of factors they can't change and as a reflection of their own shortcomings -  are more vulnerable to depression.

People who believe that they can do nothing to manage or change stressful events are more vulnerable to depression. The same people also believe that their depression reflects their own shortcomings… thus, that they deserve to have bad things happen to them.

Ironically, these habits of negative thinking are fundamental to Freudian psychoanalysis.

Freud advised his patients to follow what he called a “rule of abstinence.” He meant that it was futile even to try to change or manage their lives as long as they had not analyzed their neuroses. He also wanted to teach his patients that the bad things that happened to them were meaningful. Through psychoanalysis they would learn that their pain was a punishment for their criminal Oedipal desires.

If this is true, then Freudian psychoanalysis has been in the business of producing depression. 

The Notre Dame researchers compared student reaction to pessimistic roommates with student reaction to optimistic roommates. 

The Daily Mail reports:

The results revealed that students who were assigned to a room mate with high levels of cognitive vulnerability were likely to ‘catch’ their room mate's style of thinking and develop a vulnerability to depression themselves.

The reverse was also true. Those assigned to room mates who were not prone to depression experienced decreases in their own levels negative thinking. 

The result showed that students who developed an increase in depressive thinking in the first three months of college, had nearly twice the level of depressive symptoms at six months than those who didn't show such an increase.

If depressed patients can best cure their condition by surrounding themselves with people who have a positive outlook on life, then group therapy would be counterindicated.

Bringing a group of depressed patients together to vent about how bad they have it will merely reinforce the bad habits of depressive thinking.

1 comment:

Bobbye said...

An example of possitive people are all the ones that 'saw' the Emperor's new clothes. The negative thinker was the little boy who saw the Emporer naked.