Is Depression Contagious? What You Should Know

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

The question, "Is depression contagious?" is a very controversial statement. This is because several individuals believe that depression is contagious. In contrast, others vehemently believe that depression is nothing but a condition characterized by a chemical imbalance in the human brain (when chemicals such as neurotransmitters in charge of happiness and pleasure are negatively influenced).

Going by the latter standpoint, it's pertinent to understand that it has been shown through research that some thoughts that can trigger depression can rub off on you and make you fall into the same condition. Depression is a mental condition that is not catching like flu, cold, or some contagious disease; but, it can influence those around you. For instance, if you are blue, your mood may negatively affect your partner, friend, or family member. Specifically, it's established that one peculiar depressive symptom in men is anger or irritability— from studies, a wife is at risk of developing depressive symptoms if her husband is hostile towards her.

Moreover, according to a licensed clinical psychologist (private practice at Winter Garden in Florida)—Mary Catherine Segota (PsyD), depressive symptoms such as fatigue, sadness, and difficulty concentrating can affect someone's ability to function appropriately with partner, parent, or friend. Based on this, she expounds that you must adjust any of the roles you play in the relationship to handle some responsibilities that the depressed person cannot perform, including bill management, household activities, child's activities, or attending social activities. 

Furthermore, if parents are depressed, it can affect their children, resulting in anxiety, major depression, or disruptive disorders. This is to establish the fact that emotions and moods can spread. In addition, some unhealthy behaviors and attitudes occur along with depression. These may include avoidance of important social events, irritability, criticism, and pessimism. These behaviors can spread from one person to another. You may begin to express depressive symptoms if you have a depressed roommate in college or a partner that is depressed.

How can Depression be Contagious?

Different factors can make depression contagious. Virtually, all moods can be catching. On the positive side, if you are happy, you can influence people around you, such as your family member, friend, or partner, to live a happy life. Also, there is a higher tendency that you may quit smoking if your friend stops it. On the negative side, behaviors, moods, and emotions can be transferred from person to person. You are likely to develop depression from research if your friend or friend's friend is depressed (even up to three degrees of separation — a friend's friend's friend). Other depression-related issues that can be contagious include food consumption, loneliness, and alcohol and drug use.

How Do People Contract Depression?

The way depression spreads from person to person shouldn't be thought of as sharing something visible with someone. The spread should be seen from the angle through which a person's emotions, moods, or behaviors influence another person. According to studies, the following are ways you can contract depression:

  • Being Too Empathetic: Empathy is one of the good virtues you are expected to have in your relationship with the people around you. By definition, empathy refers to identifying with or understanding the feelings, thoughts, or emotional state of someone else. However, empathy can be dangerous if it's inordinate. Being overly involved with or focused on other people's business, such as putting yourself in their shoes when experiencing depression, can make you likely to develop depressive symptoms. Normally, this may happen if you're predisposed to experience depression.
  • How You Interpret People's Emotions: Thoughts are shown through research to have effects (positive or negative) on the way you feel. The way you interpret other people's emotions through your thoughts can leave behind a depressive mark on your feelings. In other words, the emotions and unspoken signals of your friend can influence chemicals in your brain. For instance, you may misinterpret or over-interpret an ambiguous text or post on the internet, affecting the way you feel.
  • Unnecessary Social Comparison: The way you think of yourself differently from people around you or on social media can influence your feelings. You may be prone to depression if you evaluate yourself based on the comparison you do concerning your worth, feelings, and others. You should know that the comparison you make between yourself and someone with negative thinking patterns may affect your mental well-being.

Who Is At Risk Of Catching Depression? 

Several individuals are more prone to be affected by depression if they have any of the following:

  • A history of depression or other mood disorders
  • A family history of depression (when depression runs in the family— genetic predisposition)
  • A chronic health condition
  • When you currently have cognitive vulnerability or high levels of stress.
  • When any of/both parents suffered from depression (as a child)
  • An imbalance of neurotransmitters
  • When you seek reassurance (high levels) in people around you
  • When you experience a major life change

What Are The Symptoms You May Experience?

There are symptoms you're likely to experience if you're influenced by a depressed person. The following are some of these depressive symptoms:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Hopelessness or pessimism
  • Intrusive negative thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness or general discontent

Who Can Spread Depression?

There are more likely individuals to influence people around them with the way they feel, think, and act. You are at a higher risk of catching depression or other mood disorders if any of the following individuals are suffering from depression:

  • A parent: A child's emotions can be influenced if raised by a depressed mother or father
  • A Child: If your child is depressed, you are more likely to develop depressive symptoms
  • Close Friends: Your friend can influence your moods, emotions, or behaviors positively or negatively. So, if you have a depressed close friend, such a friend may rub off on you. In addition, sometimes, your acquaintances and online friends can change the state of your mood. What you're exposed to on social media may influence your emotions.
  • Your Partner Or Spouse: Your partner or spouse is closer to your heart than anyone. So, if they fall into a depressed state, such a condition may impact your mental health. 
  • Roommates: Someone you see regularly and possibly rub minds together can influence your mood. If your roommates in college are depressed, you can experience the same condition if you're susceptible.

How To Deal With Depression If It's Caught

Depression can be debilitating if not dealt with as early as possible. The first step is to confirm your condition— see your doctor for diagnosis or click here for a depression test. After diagnosis and knowing that you have depression, there are different ways to manage your condition. The following are tips that can be of help:

  • Work Together: "Two heads are better than one." If you and someone close to you are both navigating depression, one effective way is to support each other. Each of you must be accountable by overcoming such a challenge together, such as practicing healthy eating habits, getting needed help, or observing good exercises (a good exercise helps increase the levels of endorphins, which will relieve you of depression).

In addition, you can also meditate together to help relax or calm the state of your mind and change the unpleasant patterns of thinking. There are mobile apps, online videos, or classes that will help with some minutes of mediations.

  • Avoid Taking It Personally: Don't let your emotions control your actions against your loved ones. You may see common symptoms of depression in people you love, such as irritability, loss of energy, sadness, and difficulty concentrating. Instead of taking their condition personally, try to focus on understanding it and how it has affected you. Don't mix the symptoms with the relationship's issues— differentiate them and address them appropriately.

  • Broaden Your Social Group: If individuals you spend time with can rub off on your emotions, moods, and behaviors, then having a variety of friends to spend quality time with can help boost your mood. In other words, if negative moods can be contagious, positive moods should also be. Try to surround yourself with people that can also influence you positively. Spend time with friends and family members that can make you happy. 
  • Join A Support Group: There are support groups formed to help people with similar mental health challenges. Some of these groups are for people that seek help for depression or need behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based stress relief. It's a setting where you get to see people and move out of a state of isolation.
  • Talk To A Therapist: Depression is a serious mental condition that can interfere with different aspects of your life. When you begin to sense that your self-care strategies are not working as expected, you must see a therapist together. There are licensed therapists professionally trained to help recommend the most effective treatment options for both of you.