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Depression Linked to Quality of Social Interactions

Update Date: May 01, 2013 11:14 AM EDT

A popular idiom that has been passed on repeatedly is quality over quantity, which means that just having more things is not better than having less and more meaningful things. Researchers have analyzed how quantity and quality contribute to mental health, particularly when this mantra is applied to human interactions and social relationships. Roughly 16 percent of Americans have dealt with some sort of depressive disorder, which is a contributing factor to health complications, such as coronary artery disease and stroke. According to a research study done at the University of Michigan, it concluded that the quality of relationships is significantly more important for mental health than the quantity of relationships.

The study, which is the first one of its kind to observe the risk for depression over such a long period, looked at data compiled from nearly 5,000 American adults over a 10-year time span. They discovered that the participants with strained or unsupportive partners had an increased risk for developing a major depressive disorder in the future. They also found that the number of interactions between people did not appear to affect the risk for depression.

"Our study shows that the quality of social relationships is a significant risk factor for major depression. This is the first time that a study has identified this link in the general population," study leader, Alan Teo, M.D., M.D. said. Teo, who is a psychologist, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the university. "These results tell us that health care providers need to remember that patients' relationships with their loves ones likely play a central role in their medical care. They also suggest that the broader use of couples therapy might be considered, both as a treatment for depression and as a preventative measure."

The study also found that the rates of the risk for depression. One in seven adults living in the lowest quality relationship will develop depression, as opposed to the one in 15 adults living in the highest quality relationship. These rates continue to stress the importance of having meaningful and supportive relationships with family and friends.

The study was published in PLoS ONE.

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