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How contagious is your mood?

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A University of Warwick led study has shed light on how good and bad moods can spread across friendship groups and social circles, and the impact of this on depressive symptoms amongst adolescents. So, if emotions are contagious, what could the consequences entail?

The World Health Organisation estimates that depression affects 350 million people across the world, influencing an individual’s abilities to work and socialise and, at worse, could lead to suicide. With suicide being the second biggest cause of death amongst 15-19 year-old girls, and the rate of male suicide being consistently higher than that of females, it is an important issue to understand and combat. This study could help inform intervention against depression in senior schools, and play a vital role in current policy discussions.

This study could help inform intervention against depression in senior schools, and play a vital role in current policy discussions…

The team, led by public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre, analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The data incorporated the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools, results of which were published in their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks.

“Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion”, Eyre explains.

The team found that mood appears to spread over friendship networks, as do various symptoms of depression. According to mathematical modelling, it was also found that having more friends who suffer with worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods themselves. The team also found opposite effect amongst individuals with a more positive social circle. However, it is vital to note that the effect of this was not strong enough to cause depression.

It is vital to note that the effect of this was not strong enough to cause depression…

Rob Eyre, and co-author Professor Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School, explain that the results of the study could inform public health policy and emphasise the need to consider adolescents who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms just below those needed for a diagnosis of depression when designing public health interventions.

The study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, reveals that there is also far more to depression than simply a low mood. Whilst exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress can help a teenager and their social group in terms of improving mood, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness when it comes to depression. Whilse a bad mood can be contagious, depression cannot.

The study … reveals that there is also far more to depression than simply a low mood…

With the start of the new academic year (for some, their first year at University) comes the World Mental Health Day (10th of October) highlighting the importance of taking care of our mental health. Additional stress and perhaps a new environment can take its toll on our mental health and mood, and sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents have been found to cause a reduced quality of life. This can lead to a greater risk of depression later in life, often without displaying any symptoms.

Understanding that our mood can spread in our social circles suggests that the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships due to their benefits in reducing the risk of depression. By being more aware of factors that affect our moods, this research could also help us improve our own mental well-being and mood.

 

 

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