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Being Part of a Group May Help Treat Depression

Update Date: Mar 19, 2014 06:51 PM EDT

Making new friends can help clinically depressed people recover, according to a new study.

The latest findings also show that building strong connections to social groups help prevent clinically depressed people from relapsing.

The latest research involved two studies of patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The patients were assigned either to join a community group with activities such as sewing, yoga, sports and art, or group therapy at a psychiatric hospital.

Patients were asked to fill out questionnaires. They study revealed that in both scenarios, patients responding to survey questions who did not identify strongly with the social group had about a 50 percent likelihood of continued depression a month later. However, less than a third of those who developed a stronger connection to the group and who came to identify its members as "us" rather than "them" met the criteria for clinical depression after that time.

Researchers said the findings show that many patients reported that the group made them feel supported because everyone was "in it together."

"We were able to find clear evidence that joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression," lead author Alexander Haslam, a member of Canadian Institute for Advanced Research's Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being (SIIWB) program, said in a news release.

"Our work shows that the 'group' aspect of social interaction is critical," he added.

"The group is a major source of encouragement, but it has also helped to hone our questions in important ways - so that we have asked the right questions and looked in the right places for answers," Haslam concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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