HEALTH: Warding off depression

Visits from friends and family ‘ward off depression in later life’ “Low levels of face-to-face social contact ‘can double the risk of depression in older people’,” say The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The papers are reporting on a new study that found over-50s who saw their family and friends at least three times a week were half as likely to develop depression as those who saw loved ones much less often. Speaking on the phone or keeping in touch by email was no substitute for meeting up in person and had no protective effect on the risk of depression.

The study, which tracked over 11,000 people for more than two years, found people who saw family and friends just once every few months had an 11.5% chance of later developing symptoms of depression, compared with a risk of 6.5% for those who met up at least three times a week.

Interestingly, for people in their 50s and 60s social contact with friends seemed particularly important to ward off depression, while for those aged 70 and older frequent contact with children and other relatives was most beneficial.

The researchers pointed out, though, that frequent contact with friends and family was only helpful if it was harmonious. Visits marred by conflict were more likely to result in depression than no visits at all.

While the study supports the importance of face-to-face contact in preventing depression in older people, it doesn’t prove that low social contact directly causes depression. It could be, for instance, a person predisposed to depression is more likely to withdraw and avoid contact with loved ones.

More on this study on the NHS Choices Website

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