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Social integration is the key that will help you prevent depression

The protective effects of social connection were present even for individuals who were at higher risk for depression as a result of genetic vulnerability or early life trauma. @Shutterstock

According to experts, social integration and a close-knit society can play a crucial role in bringing down the number of suicides linked to depression across the country.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : August 18, 2020 9:23 AM IST

The spurt in suicide incidents at AIIMS in New Delhi in the past two months has become a cause for concern not just for the AIIMS administration but also for the Health Ministry. In most of the suicide cases AIIMS had seen in the last two months, depression was the main cause. At least six persons, including three doctors, have ended their life either in the hospital premises or at their hostel or home in Delhi. The most recent case was reported from south Delhi, where a 40-year-old doctor posted in the Paediatrics Department was found hanging at his residence on August 14. He left behind a suicide note in which he did not blame anyone for his death but said "it is not necessary to live 60 or 70 years of life", indicating he suffered from depression.

Close to 8,00,000 people commit suicide every year around the world. For each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Suicides and suicide attempts have a ripple effect that leaves an impact on families, friends, colleagues, communities and societies.

Social connection offers protection against depression

According to experts, social integration and a close-knit society can play a crucial role in bringing down the number of suicides linked to depression across the country. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital have now identified a set of modifiable factors from a field of over 100 that could represent valuable targets for preventing depression in adults. In a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, the team named social connection as the strongest protective factor for depression and suggested that reducing sedentary activities such as TV watching and daytime napping could also help lower the risk of depression.

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Modifiable risk factors of depression

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. But till now researchers have focused on only a handful of risk and protective factors, often in just one or two domains. This study provides the most comprehensive picture to date of modifiable factors that could impact depression risk. For the current study, they drew on a database of over 100,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a world-renowned cohort study of adults, to systematically scan a wide range of modifiable factors that might be associated with the risk of developing depression, including social interaction, media use, sleep patterns, diet, physical activity, and environmental exposures. This method, known as an exposure-wide association scan (ExWAS), is analogous to genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that have been widely used to identify genetic risk factors for disease.

In the second stage of this study, researchers took the strongest modifiable candidates from ExWAS and applied a technique called Mendelian randomization (MR) to investigate which factors may have a causal relationship to depression risk. MR is a statistical method that treats genetic variation between people as a kind of natural experiment to determine whether an association is likely to reflect causation rather than just correlation.

Confiding in others, visiting family keeps depression away

This two-stage approach allowed the MGH researchers to narrow the field to a smaller set of promising and potentially causal targets for depression. 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, say researchers. These factors are more relevant now than ever at a time of social distancing and separation from friends and family. The protective effects of social connection were present even for individuals who were at higher risk for depression as a result of genetic vulnerability or early life trauma.

Risk factors of depression

On the other hand, factors associated with depression risk included time spent watching TV, though the authors note that additional research is needed to determine if that risk was due to media exposure per se or whether time in front of the TV was a proxy for being sedentary. Perhaps more surprising, the tendency for daytime napping and regular use of multivitamins appeared to be associated with depression risk, though more research is needed to determine how these might contribute.

(With inputs from IANS)

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