Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 2nd 2015 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, September 2, 2015
For teenagers, surrounding them-
selves with friends---particularly
friends in a good mood---could sig-
nificantly reduce their risk of devel-
oping depression, and improve their
ability to recover from it.
In a study published this week, sci-
entists analysed the data of more than
2,000 high school students in the
United States to investigate whether
the moods of students influenced one
another and if this could in turn
impact levels of depression among
teens. The teams modelled the spread
of moods among the students over
six to 12 months, using techniques
similar to modeling the spread of an
"We classified people as ill
(depressed) or not and looked at how
that changed over time," says Thomas
Moore, a lecturer in applied mathe-
matics at the University of Manches-
ter, who worked on the study.
Moore says previous studies have
found depressed people tend to group
into clusters, implying that this frame
of mind could be spread. But the team
found the opposite.
"Depression itself doesn t spread,
but a healthy mood actually does," he
says. The study found that teens with
a strong group of friends not suffering
from depression---described as a
"healthy" mood---had half the prob-
ability of developing depression and
double the probability of recovering
if they were depressed.
"The effect was big, much bigger
than you see form antidepressants,"
Importantly, depressed friends
didn t counter the effect. "They don t
seem to drag their friends down," says
The data was taken from the ongo-
ing National Longitudinal Study of
Adolescent to Adult Health currently
taking place in the United States and
the team see the findings as a useful
weapon in the fight against depression
---particularly among teens.
According to data from the National
Survey on Drug Use and Health in the
United States, an estimated 2.6 million
12 to 17-year-olds had at least one
major depressive episode during 2013.
This represented 10.7 per cent of the
US population aged 12 to 17.
"Depression is a major public health
concern worldwide," says professor
Frances Griffiths, head of social science
and systems in health at Warwick
Medical School, who also worked on
the research. "Our results offer impli-
cations for improving adolescent mood
... that encouraging friendship net-
works between adolescents could
reduce both the incidence and preva-
lence of depression among teenagers."
Whilst the study found a difference
over six to 12 months, Moore believes
the change could happen sooner. "We
only got these two snapshots [of
time]," he says.
Moore sees social activities such as
youth groups as low-cost, low-risk
options to help alleviate the burden
of depression today. "If you combine
this with other things known to work,
they might work even better," he says.
Current treatment for depression
is complex using combinations of
therapy and drugs such as antide-
pressants as well as encouraging a
"When we think of staying healthy,
we often think of taking exercise and
eating a healthy diet. However, we
should also make time for our friend-
ships as part of a healthy lifestyle,"
says Jim Bolton, a Fellow of the Royal
College of Psychiatrists, in the United
"This study is additional evidence
of the importance of friends and fam-
ily in maintaining good mental health
... [and] importantly, this study indi-
cates that when we do speak to family
and friends our depression is not
infectious, " he says.
But his findings may not automat-
ically apply to all teenage populations
warns Shirley Reynolds, professor of
evidence-based psychological thera-
pies at the University of Reading.
"These data are certainly intriguing
and if replicated and substantiated
have important implications for public
health and social [or] educational
interventions," she says. "However,
there is no information given about
the young people who took part... this
makes it impossible to know if they
are representative of other teenagers
in the USA, let alone teenagers in the
UK or Europe."
Justin T Baker, instructor of psy-
chiatry at Harvard Medical School
and a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital,
in Belmont, Massachusetts, says it s
a clever study, but cautions that it
has several limitations. One is that it
infers a "transmission model" from
just two time points---six and 12
"Also, the authors chose to label
participants as either depressed or
not, even though mood and depression
vary continuously along a continuum,"
he says. "This all-or-none label makes
some sense for infection, but doesn t
capture the experience of depression."
Happy friends could help
teenagers beat depression
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
"When we think of
staying healthy, we
often think of
taking exercise and
eating a healthy
diet. However, we
should also make
time for our
friendships as part
of a healthy
Jim Bolton, a Fellow of
the Royal College of
Happy teenagers can help their depressed friends with positive interractions.
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