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Confiding In Others May Lower Risk Of Depression, Study Says

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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Rates of suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression have increased during the pandemic. In the wake of this looming mental health crisis, researchers are looking for preventive measures. One study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found social connection may be the first place to start

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, looked at data from 100,000 participants and analyzed external factors (social interaction, media use, sleep patterns, diet, physical activity, and environmental exposures) that may affect depression. 

After figuring out which of these factors was most strongly associated with depression, researchers used a technique called Mendelian randomization (MR) to determine whether they were a result of correlation or causation. By narrowing down the potential risk factors, health care providers can focus on more targeted treatment and prevention plans. 

Which external factors can protect against depression? 

Social connection was the most significant protective factor against depression in adults—even in those with early childhood trauma and a family history of depression. 

"Far and away the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlighted the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion," co-author of the study Jordan Smoller, M.D., ScD, says. 

Stay-at-home orders can make social connection challenging, especially considering in-person interactions tend to have a greater benefit on mental health. That said, confiding in a friend, loved one, or therapist over the phone may still help manage feelings of depression. 

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Which external factors increase the risk of depression?

Activities like watching TV and taking naps throughout the day were more associated with depression. More research is needed to determine whether media exposure itself increases this risk or whether the sedentary activity of watching television is responsible. 

The connection between daytime naps and depression is also not well understood. However, researchers say reducing these two activities may help lower the risk.

Bottom line.

"Depression takes an enormous toll on individuals, families, and society, yet we still know very little about how to prevent it," Smoller says. This research, however, addressed these important questions and helped narrow down potential risk factors. 

This information can encourage future researchers to develop actionable strategies for preventing depression, he says, and hopefully lower the staggering rates of mental health disorders.

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