Is Depression Contagious?

For many people, depression is an everyday struggle that makes it difficult to get out of bed, take proper care of themselves, and reach their full potential in life. While many individuals with depression feel alone in living with their disorder, Mental Health America (MHA) reported that 21 million American adults experience major depression every year, making it a remarkably common occurrence. 

While it's normal to feel sad from time to time, depression is a persistent sense of hopelessness and loss of pleasure that can contribute to symptoms like mood swings, insomnia, and changes in eating habits. Individuals who are depressed may stop engaging in activities they previously enjoyed, experience fatigue and anxiety, or lash out at others in anger. 

Unfortunately, it's estimated that only 35% of people living with major depression reach out for professional help. Those who don't seek treatment may believe they can manage their condition on their own or feel their depression is a sign of weakness due to the stigma associated with mental illness. In general, men are more resistant to receiving treatment for their depression, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Depression probably isn't the first word that comes to mind when you think of contagious illnesses. And while it can't be spread by touching another person, spending time around someone displaying depressive symptoms could increase your risk of developing similar symptoms, particularly if you already have risk factors for depression (via Healthline).

How depressive symptoms can spread to others

We all know how difficult it can be to witness someone we love in pain, especially when we don't know what to say or do to help them feel better. After consoling a loved one with depression, you might be surprised to find yourself feeling blue as well.

Human beings are empathetic creatures. When we observe a loved one struggling with depression, our empathetic nature may cause us to imagine ourselves being in their position while we feel their emotions as if they were our own, as described by Healthline. A 2022 review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews explained that mirror neurons in the brain help facilitate this natural sense of empathy. Individuals with a genetic predisposition to mental health disorders or those who grew up with parents who were depressed may be more susceptible to depression contagion. Women and adolescents may also experience depression contagion more often.

Suicidal behavior triggered by depression may spread from person to person as well, as reported by CNN. In fact, learning about someone taking their own life can increase the risk of suicide among vulnerable individuals who are already struggling with their mental health. 

After all, depression can sometimes take such an emotional toll on someone that they take their own lives, so supporting individuals who are depressed is crucial. With this in mind, you may want to learn how you can care for your loved one with depression without absorbing their negative feelings.

Supporting an individual with depression while caring for yourself

You might not be able to eliminate your loved one's depression completely, but you can help them feel less alone. According to Everyday Health, the simple act of listening to how someone feels can have a positive impact on their mental health. You can gently encourage someone showing signs of depression to seek mental health care. Stigmatizing language can dissuade them from seeking treatment, so make sure to use non-judgmental words as you speak with them. Visiting a primary care doctor can be a great first step for anyone afraid to see a psychologist or psychiatrist. 

As you're caring for your loved one, don't forget to take care of yourself. You can try to help someone to the best of your ability, but there may be times when they aren't ready to seek professional help or are having difficulty with their treatment. You can seek guidance during these times by attending support groups for caregivers of those who struggle with depression (per GoodTherapy). You can also learn to recognize the symptoms of "compassion fatigue," like having the urge to distance yourself from your loved one. If you're experiencing compassion fatigue, it's a sign you need more time for self-care.  

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.