Is Depression Contagious?
Updated August 27, 2019
Reviewer Kristen Hardin
If you've ever known someone who suffers from depression or if you've ever struggled with it yourself, you may have wondered, "Is depression contagious?" After all, it seems like every time you spend time around someone who is negative you leave feeling upset, right? And when you spend time around someone who is positive you leave feeling excited and happy. Some people absorb the emotions of others around them more than other people, but to some extent, most are affected by the moods of those they spend a lot of time with. So, is the same true for depression? The answer is a little complicated so keep reading to learn more.
What Is Depression?
Depression is characterized as persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest alongside a low mood. There are a number of different symptoms that can go along with depression including increased or decreased appetite, weight and sleep, feelings of hopelessness, anger over minor details and other diagnostic criteria. In general, depression can cause extreme negatives when it comes to mood and this can (and does) persist for an extended period. In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, the individual must suffer from depression for a period of at least 2 weeks.
Is Depression Contagious?
When we talk about things being contagious, we're generally talking about things like a cold or the flu. These are things that you can get simply by being in the same space with someone. We may also talk about things like meningitis or STD that could be contracted through the transfer of bodily fluids. When we start talking about depression, the situation is definitely not the same. You can't 'catch' depression in the same way that you would catch one of these illnesses. But can you develop depression based on other factors?
The truth is when you surround yourself with certain types of people you are likely to pick up on their traits. If you've ever found yourself using words and phrases that your best friend does but you never did before you know how this works. Just by being around them and hearing them use those words, you start to pick up on them and incorporate them into your own vocabulary. The same can be true of other mannerisms, habits, and experiences. You may pick up your mother's manner of walking, your partner's way of folding towels, or your coworker's taste in music.
The more time you spend around someone the more likely it is that their behaviors will start to impact you. After all, you're constantly seeing that behavior and that tends to make it more normal in your eyes. When you're around someone who is constantly feeling a certain way, you're more likely to pick up on that as well. Have you ever tried to be happy when the people around you are all sad? Or have you ever felt sad and your best friend took you out to cheer you up? It's difficult to feel the opposite emotion of the people around you.
When it comes to depression, this is also the case. Someone suffering from depression can most definitely pass those thoughts and feelings on to you and studies have proven it. Studies that look at those most closely related to someone with depression have found that they also begin to exhibit symptoms. The children, the partner or the roommate of someone with depression may start to show symptoms simply because they spend extensive amounts of time with the individual who is currently suffering from the disorder.
What can be even more frightening is that these symptoms can be passed on even further than just those you spend the most time with. Research seems to show that depression can be passed up to three degrees of separation outward, which means that if your parents are depressed your best friend could actually be at a higher risk. Spending more time with someone who experiences these thoughts and feelings tends to increase the risk even higher. This is why it's important to find ways that you can distance yourself not necessarily from the individual, but from the behaviors as much as possible.
Avoid or Engage?
When you know that someone around you is experiencing depression, you don't want to avoid them entirely. Someone who is experiencing these symptoms needs all the support, love and help that they can get and that's going to mean they need you. It's important, however, that you prioritize your own mental health and wellbeing as well. It's possible that you will need to find new ways to interact with this individual in order to preserve your own wellbeing and to keep yourself feeling okay even while you're trying to help them through their experiences.
If you find that you can't spend time with this person because of your own needs and your own mental health, it's important to still communicate to them that they are loved and cared for. You truly need to make sure that they understand that there's nothing about them that is wrong and that you are there for them still, as much as you can be. Try to refrain from cutting them entirely out of your life but instead try to limit your interaction with them or find new ways that you can work on yourself before and after you are with them.
Finding ways to meditate or do something that you enjoy immediately before or after spending time with someone who suffers from depression can greatly improve your own feelings. The important thing is simply to make sure that you don't let their mood infringe on yours or cause you to harm in any way. You deserve to be happy and healthy. Talk with your doctor or a mental health professional if you believe that you are experiencing negative side effects as a result of spending time with someone with depression. They may be able to help you figure out different coping strategies that will allow you to remain in their life but protect your own.
Keep in mind that no matter how much you love or care for someone with depression you will not be able to help them entirely by yourself. They need professional help and the best thing you can do is encourage them to get it. Do not feel like you are fully responsible for making them feel better or improving their mood. Also, don't assume that because they have good times they are not still suffering in major ways as well. Helping them and encouraging them to get help is an important step of being their friend and supporter.
Being around someone with depression is not the only way that you could develop it. Other factors go into deciding whether you are more or less susceptible to the disorder, including your genetics and your current levels of stress. If you spend a great deal of time around someone who is depressed and also find yourself being extremely stressed frequently you have an even higher chance of developing depression. The same if you have a genetic predisposition because of someone in your family. Each of these characteristics can increase your chances individually as well.
Avoiding depression isn't something that you can do entirely on your own. While managing your stress levels and attempting to avoid prolonged interaction with those who are suffering from depression or simply have a negative outlook on life will help, this will not guarantee that you'll never suffer from depression. The statistics show that 1 in 6 adults within the United States will suffer depression at some point in their lives and the best thing you can do is seek help if you find yourself to be one of them. Getting help as soon as you realize that something is not quite right will help you work on improving your life even soon.
Getting Professional Help
If you or someone you know needs professional help to deal with depression or another mental health illness, you should seek out a mental health professional like those available at BetterHelp. BetterHelp will provide you with online therapy that you can connect to from anywhere you have an internet connection. That means you'll have the ability to carry out a therapy session whether you're at the office, at home, or on vacation. As long as you can get online with your device you'll be able to have your session.
There's no need to be limited by those in your area, or within driving distance anymore. Online mental health assistance is going to make it easier for you to start working on your improving your life and start working through your depression. Another benefit to using BetterHelp is you are not limited to only having video or phone sessions. You can send your counselor a message at any time through the secure platform. This can be really helpful because you can write as you experience something, rather than having to wait for your next appointment. You can also use the messaging feature and live chat feature if you prefer to not have face to face interaction. Don't wait! You can get started today.