Moods are contagious between people and young people or adolescents, they are the most susceptible to being infected by the emotional states of their friends. According to the latest data available to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive event between 2014 and 2015.
Diagnosed depression is reaching alarming numbers around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 300 million people are affected worldwide. Many people, especially adolescents, have depressive symptoms just below the threshold for a clinical diagnosis of depression. This is called “subthreshold depression” and the fact that it is not a clinical condition means that many people do not get the support they need, even though they often report poor quality of life to their medical providers.
Recent research wants to better understand this fact
Researchers at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, are studying how the social circles of adolescents and young adults can influence their moods, in an effort to better understand what determines depressive symptoms among adolescents and young adults and what could alleviate them.
We investigated whether there is evidence for individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness, or sleep) spreading through adolescent friendships in the United States while adjusting for confounders by modeling transition probabilities of change the state of mind over time. Evidence from the study suggests that mood spreads from person to person through social contagion. These findings were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Prevailing moods influence social contagion
In social contagion, social environments impact our emotional profiles. Some research focused more specifically on teens, showing that teens with strong friendship groups tend to have better mental health. Previous studies found social support and friendship to be beneficial for mood disorders in adolescents, while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state may be affected by exposure to emotional expressions from social contacts, regardless of the age of this individual.
A teenager’s friendships can influence her mood swings. The researchers analyzed data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health, which worked with American adolescents during the 1994 to 1995 school year. Participants were followed until 2008, when the individuals in the cohort had reached adulthood.
By looking at data on adolescent friendship networks and mood swings, the researchers found that prevailing moods in a circle of friends can influence the emotional state of the individual adolescent. The moods of depression are, in fact, “Contagious”. Symptoms of this include feelings of helplessness, tiredness, loss of interest, poor concentration, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness.
However, although low moods and feelings of sadness could spread between friends, they did not tend to push individual adolescents over the threshold to clinically diagnosable depression. Mathematical models showed that the more friends displayed low mood in an adolescent’s social circle, the more likely that particular adolescent was to experience similar symptoms.
At the same time, the study showed that a circle of friends in which the majority of people are upbeat and optimistic can improve a teenager’s mood and ease their symptoms of depression.