Clinical depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD), is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting more than 19 million Americans each year.
The condition causes people to lose appreciation for everyday life, and is characterized by episodes of all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem and loss of interest or pleasure in activities.
The term depression is ambiguous, used to denote many mood disorders. Depression can be a disabling condition that adversely affects a person’s loved ones, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health.
Symptoms of depression manifest as persistent sadness and anxiety, excessive sleep or sleeplessness, significant loss or increase of appetite, restlessness, irritability, fatigue, and a preoccupation of suicidal thoughts. Depression is more than just feeling sad. Sufferers often experience feelings of despair.
Anyone is vulnerable to depression as chronic stress, traumatic events, substance abuse, a family history of mental illness and, as studies have shows, even being surrounded by people who are negative can trigger the condition. Treatment typically involves a combination of anti-depressants and psychotherapy.
A new study out of the University of Notre Dame suggests depression and the emotions associated with it may be contagious among those in immediate contact through a cognitive vulnerability.
Cognitive vulnerability refers to an internal and stable feature of a person that predisposes him or her to the development of psycho-pathology under specified conditions such as the occurrence of stressful life events. This cognitive vulnerability can be used to predict who is likely to experience depression in the future.
Doctors Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames, of Indiana’s University of Notre Dame, decided to investigate whether depression might be contagious during major life transitions such as starting college.
Randomly paired roommates, made up of 206 college-age freshman participants (103 pairs), were observed. Within one month of arriving on campus, the roommates completed an online questionnaire that included measures of cognitive vulnerability and depressive symptoms. They completed the same measures again three months and six months later.
The psychological research, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal for the Association for Psychological Science, found the gloomy mindset of students vulnerable to depression can make their friends more likely to suffer with the same condition, especially in circumstances of stressful life changes.
Students assigned to roommates with high-levels of depressive vulnerability were likely to take on a similar mindset. The reverse was also true. Those assigned to roommates who were not prone to depression experienced decreases in their own levels negative thinking. 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.
Dr. Haeffel determined the study demonstrated the influence of cognitive vulnerability and its potential to wax and wane over time depending on the social context.
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