How Depression Spreads

Infections are not the only health concern that can spread from person to person.

While depression may not be contagious like bacteria and viruses are, it can still be passed on and shared.

Sharing a connection with someone means that their experiences can impact you and yours on them. When someone close to you is going through a tough time, it’s only natural to feel empathy and want to help.

But sometimes, that empathy can turn into something more. When you see someone you love suffering, it can be difficult not to take on some of their pain.

This is especially true if you’re already vulnerable to depression. If you have a history of mental illness, you may be more likely to develop depression yourself when you see a loved one going through it.

Emotional Contagions

It’s easy to feel like your emotional state is something you experience alone. This can be especially true of negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, and anger.

But social interaction can trigger emotional and behavioral synchrony. This means that when we see someone else feeling or acting a certain way, we’re more likely to behave that way ourselves. And likewise, our emotions and behaviors may influence those around us.

Peer pressure and social norms play a significant role in our behaviors. Habits like smoking and drinking, for example, commonly spread throughout friend groups. And quitting tends to work better as a group effort.

The same is true of depression. When someone you know and care about is going through it, you may find yourself feeling more depressed yourself. This shared struggle can create a dangerous cycle. Suicide, substance abuse, and self-harming behaviors cluster within social groups.

Emotional Immunity?

Negative emotions don’t always spread so quickly, though. Just because you have a close friend or family member going through depression doesn’t mean you’ll develop it yourself.

But sometimes, it’s easier to see a problem in someone else than it is to see it in yourself. If you know you are vulnerable to depression, you might be able to see early warning signs in the people around you before noticing your own symptoms.

When you see a friend or family member struggling, this could allow you to get help for yourself before things spiral out of control.

Then, as you work to recover from your depression, you may also be able to provide support to the people around you who are going through a tough time.

Depression can be contagious, but so is happiness. By working on your own mental health, you can improve your own life and the lives of the people around you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, many resources are available to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential, 24/7 support for people in distress. It’s never too late to reach out for help.