Among Teens, Happiness Spreads Faster Than Negativity

Good friendships can help teens coping with depression.


Good news about teen mental health! A new study shows that friendship can help teens cope with depression. Researchers at the University of Warwick found that while depression doesn't spread among friends, positivity can be contagious.

According to Frances Griffiths, the head of social science and systems in health at Warwick Medical School,

"Depression is a major public health concern worldwide. But the good news is we've found that a healthy mood amongst friends is linked with a significantly reduced risk of developing and increased chance of recovering from depression...

In particular [these results] suggest the hypothesis that encouraging friendship networks between adolescents could reduce both the incidence and prevalence of depression among teenagers."

To reach these findings, researchers examined data from more than 2,000 teens in U.S. high schools and assessed how their moods affected one another. Their method was similar to that of tracking an infectious disease. Depression did not spread among teens, but healthy friendships helped them recover from depression or prevented it in the first place. (For more about depression, check out this story of six brave teens opening up about mental health!)

This new research supplements other studies demonstrating that who teens surround themselves with really does matter. One report found that when teens spend their time with high-achieving friends, they also succeed themselves. Another plus? Joining team sports (aka spending time with other like-minded, athletic pals) positively impacts mental health, and even virtual friendships are valuable to teens and provide a strong system of support. 

Considering that one in five teens lives with a mental illness, this is promising news. Friendship isn’t a guaranteed cure of teen depression, but knowing that companionship can positively impact teens' moods provides a way to help them cope and build a strong support system.

While friendships definitely have their upsides, parents and teachers should remind teens to be weary of unhealthy relationships. Check out our "Friendfluence" story for signs of what could be considered toxic, then read, "Who Rules Your School?" for a closer look at the science behind cliques.