Social snubs are harder to shake off if you’re depressed

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you're depressed. (pic courtesy of

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you’re depressed. (pic courtesy of

The hurt of being snubbed by someone who used to be your friend, or being rejected by social groups goes deeper and lasts longer if you’re suffering from untreated depression, according to a study from the University of Michigan. This seems to be adding insult to injury to people who may already be feeling bad about themselves. However, there is a scientific reason to explain this.

The researchers tested stress-reducing chemicals (called opioids) in the brains of depressed and non-depressed people in the context of online dating, where likes and rejections often come in equal measures. In short, when depressed people received rejections they found it harder to regulate their emotions, while non-depressed people were able to cope with the social stress and move on without giving it much more thought.  When someone liked them back, both depressed and non-depressed people felt an uplift (which the researchers were surprised about, because depression can affect the ability to feel joy). However, the feeling of social acceptance was short-lived in people with depression.

Feeling down? Sit upright to avoid a slump in mood

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/

If you’re feeling low, chances are your body posture will mirror your mood. You may slump or slouch, as your body slackens and gives up the fight. Yet, new research has found that this also works the other way round: our body posture can have an effect on our emotions. If you slump, you’re more likely to keep hold of negative thoughts.

In tests, the researchers asked 30 depressed people to sit either in a slumped (depressed) or upright (non-depressed) posture while imagining themselves in a scene in front of them, where positive and negative words flashed on a computer screen. They found that upright patients were able to recall a balance of positive and negative words, whereas the slumped patients showed “recall biased towards more negative words”.

They concluded that posture has more of an impact on mood than previously believed. The body can influence the mind and how we feel about ourselves.

The researchers said: “Training patients in mindful body awareness might be useful because it fosters an intuitive understanding of the interplay of bodily and emotional processes.” In other words, becoming more conscious of the mind-body connection might mean you could catch yourself before you fall into a slump. Becoming aware of your posture could therefore be a quick boost to your mood.

A sense of ‘belonging’ can help beat depression

Feeling affinity with a group can help alleviate depression. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Feeling affinity with a group can help alleviate depression. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/

If you’re depressed, you can feel lost and alone, as if everyone were against you. It can be a terribly isolating place, and it’s easy to withdraw from interacting with the world. Yet making the effort to connect with a group can be one of the first steps to recovery from depression.

A study from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) discovered that finding a connection with social groups can help alleviate depression and anxiety and prevent relapse.

People who took part in the research joined either a community group with activities such as yoga, sports and art, or took part in group therapy. What made the difference in both groups was the sense of connection participants felt with the other group members. Those who did not identify with the rest of the group had a 50% chance of feeling depressed a month later. However, among those who felt a stronger connection with the group, less than a third were clinically depressed a month later.

The difference is a feeling of being supported by the rest of the group, of everyone being ‘in it together’. In other words, depressed people began to feel a sense of ‘us’ rather than ‘them’. The study concluded that “joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression”. 

What is significant about this research, however, is that the ‘group’ aspect of social interaction is crucial, rather than just the interpersonal relationships within groups. Finding groups with whom you have an affinity could be the first step to feeling lighter and happier.

Turn Blue Monday into ‘Blooming Monday’

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Mental health charity MHRUK is urging everyone to wear bright colours to combat Blue Monday.

Today is meant to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas festivities are well behind us, and it’s a while before the clocks go forward and we can enjoy some daylight on our journey to and from work. That’s why mental health charity Mental Health Research UK is urging us to change one thing about our appearance in a bid to brighten up the saddest day in the calendar.

It is calling on individuals and organisations to ‘ditch the grey on blooming Monday‘ and to pick bright colours from our wardrobes instead of our usual darker shades. Even if workplace dress codes insist on formal clothes, the charity says that people can brighten up their day with a colourful scarf, tie or even socks.

While this may sound lighthearted on a bleak day, the point of MHRUK’s campaign is serious: to combat the stigma of mental illness, raise funds to research into the causes of depression, and “develop better treatments to reduce the misery resulting from it”.

MHRUK found that 30% of workers leave home in the morning before sunrise and return home after sunset during the winter, putting them at risk of seasonal affective disorder.

Visit for ways to get involved in the campaign.

Workaholics are at risk of compulsive internet addiction

60% of people are at risk of compulsive internet usage, says research (pic:

60% of people say they use the internet compulsively, says research (pic:

It’s Monday morning. You log onto your emails at work and yet there are no surprises. Why? Because you’ve had your smartphone by your side all weekend and you’ve been checking your emails compulsively, unable to switch off. You see ‘relaxing’ as a pointless waste of time. Pushing yourself harder to achieve career success is what drives you. But it can also be what drains you.

If you recognise yourself here, then you could be among the 60% of workers who use the internet compulsively, often as a coping strategy. Increasingly it is high-fliers and overachievers whose internet usage can be excessive and compulsive, rather than students and the unemployed. That’s according to research among 516 people aged 18 to 65 by Dr Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School and Professor Nada Korac-Kakabadse of Henley Business School, which was presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s Annual Conference in Brighton.

Using the internet was strongly linked to working obsessively, and overuse of the internet could lead to “measurable withdrawal symptoms” such as anxiety, isolation and depression. The researchers said that workaholics will often wake up several times in the night to check their emails, and their health and relationships suffer because they can’t manage to tear themselves away from their computer. They tend to be the high-achieving successful employees, but continued compulsive usage could lead to burnout.

This research is the latest in a growing body of evidence around the dangers of excessive internet use. A study by Missouri University of Science and Technology investigated the impact of heavy internet use on mental health and found that young people who used the internet excessively – including games, social media and email – showed signs of addictive behaviours, such as introversion, craving, loss of control and tolerance.

The Guardian offers five ways to curb your internet use and get your life back. However, if you’re worried that your internet use is getting out of control and having a negative impact on your life, email or call 07956 823501 to take the first step to speak to a therapist about it.

Can spirituality make you more resilient to depression?

Researchers says spiritual beliefs can protect the brain from mood disorders such as depression. (pic:

Researchers says spiritual beliefs can protect the brain from mood disorders such as depression. (pic:

Apparently it can. A scientific study has suggested that spirituality gives people who are prone to depression a thicker outer part of the brain – which may offer some protection from depression.

The report studied 103 adults aged 18-54 from a family background of depression, and took MRI scans of their brains. They found a thicker cortex – the part of the brain that processes senses, language and emotion – in the survey participants who said religion or spirituality was important to them, compared with those who didn’t. A thinner cortex is linked with higher risk of depression.

However, being spiritual does not give you a thicker cortex, the researchers reported. Nor does more frequent attendance at church.

Myrna Weissman, professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and chief of the Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology department at New York State Psychiatric Institute, who worked on the study, said: “Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain, and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this. A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression.”

What to make of these results? The researchers had previously found a 90% decreased risk of depression among the adult children of parents who were suffering from it. The therapeutic value of these findings is not clear, not even to the scientists, who believe that it’s the start of further research.

Weissman says the body and mind are connected – but how? Does having faith or belief in something beyond the physical here-and-now body help sustain people through difficult times? In an area that must be incredibly difficult to measure, I’ll be interested in what scientists can prove in the future.

What are your chances of feeling SAD at work this winter…?

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic:

Mental health charity MHRUK says lack of natural light puts workers at risk of depression. (pic:

About a one in three chance, according to mental health charity Mental Health Research UK (MHRUK).

With many battling the torrential wind and rain to make it to their desks on time for the new-year return to work, it’s not just the weather and post-Christmas blues that are the problem. Leaving early in the morning when it’s dark, working in an office that has little natural light – and then returning home when it’s dark – is putting workers’ mental health at risk, says MHRUK.

Its survey of 2,000 people showed that 30% leave home in the morning before sunrise and return post-sunset in the evening. If their workplace is also dark, then this can put them at risk of winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One in 10 work all day with insufficient light –and half the people surveyed were concerned that their workplace did not have enough natural light.

MHRUK says it is estimated that a million working hours are lost each hour due to SAD. “The common unhealthy work culture where lunch breaks are frowned upon is a likely contributor to the increasing numbers of SAD sufferers,” says Dr Laura Davidson, mental health barrister and trustee of MHRUK.

The charity is calling on employers to bring more light into the workplace – offering decent lighting in darker areas if natural light is impossible. It is also attempting to counteract the gloom with its Blooming Monday campaign, encouraging workers to ditch the greys and embrace vibrant colours from their wardrobes. Monday 20 January is deemed the gloomiest day of the year – hence giving an excuse to defy the dark and wear more colourful, cheerful clothes to lift the mood.

SAD can affect your energy, appetite and mood. As well as putting yourself in light-filled environments as much as possible, the NHS advises that SAD can be treated with therapy and anti-depressants, where appropriate.

Mental health is key determinant of happiness, says global report

World Happiness Report 2013Mental illness has more effect on misery levels across the globe than physical illness, income or unemployment. That’s according to the World Happiness Report 2013 from the UN’s General Assembly, which concludes that there is a relationship between the scale of mental illness and the levels of national happiness.

About 10% of the world’s population suffers from depression or anxiety, and these disorders account for a fifth of all disability – putting pressure on productivity and the economy. However, the report adds that governments are not prioritising mental health, or putting their money where their misery is, as only a third of people who need treatment are receiving it. And it calls on schools and workplaces to be more mental-health conscious.

It says: “Good, cost-effective treatments exist for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, and the happiness of the world would be greatly increased if they were more widely available.”

Interestingly, the report details factors from childhood that impact on life satisfaction as an adult. Number one is the child’s emotional development, followed by behaviour and intellectual development. The most important family influence is the mother’s emotional health.

The happiest country in the report is Denmark, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden. The US comes in at 17th, and the UK is 22nd in the list. Factors the UN takes into consideration when assessing happiness are: “real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity”.

The report concludes that subjective wellbeing has a huge influence on communities and the economy. “People who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all.”

Male depression manifests in anger rather than tears, says study

Men suffer depression just as much as women, but they express it differently. (pic:

Men suffer depression just as much as women, but they express it differently. (pic:

Men suffer depression just as much as women do – contrary to popular perception – but their symptoms may be angry and irritable rather than sad and teary. And they may turn to drink and work to help them get through. That’s according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, which explores gender differences in depression symptoms.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at ‘traditional’ depressive symptoms, such as crying and sadness, and ‘alternative’ depressive symptoms. For men, instead of openly showing their emotions, their feelings may come out in behaviours such as distraction, substance use, gambling, womanising, workaholism and risk-taking. Importantly, said the study, “irritability could be the key symptom linking men and depression”. When combining those traditional and alternative signs, the researchers found that 31% of men and 33% of women met the criteria for depression.

The study explained its findings: “Men are more likely to express their emotional and psychological distress in the form of “depressive equivalents” because direct admission of sadness and emotional weakness or vulnerability in men is seen as socially unacceptable.”

You can ‘catch’ depression from friends, says study

anima action on depression

Action on Depression has launched a campaign to challenge stereotypes about depression.

Vulnerability to depression can be catching, especially at times of life transition, according to a scientific study.

People who think in a certain type of way – who respond negatively to stressful life events, and believe things won’t change and their own deficiencies are somehow to blame – are described as having ‘cognitive vulnerability’ by the researchers at Notre Dame University in Indiana. Cognitive vulnerability is a risk factor for depression, they say, even if people haven’t suffered from depression in the past.

Cognitive vulnerability can be ‘catching’ at times of big change, like going to college for the first time. The researchers’ study of 103 pairs of students sharing rooms on campus found that levels of cognitive vulnerability were contagious. Students would pick up on the other person’s levels of cognitive vulnerability. Those with higher levels after three months would show more depressive symptoms at six months.

Study author Dr Gerard Haeffel says this could have implications for predicting who might become depressed in future. He adds: “Surrounding a person with other who exhibit and adaptive cognitive style should help to facilitate cognitive change in therapy.”

This news comes during Depression Awareness Week 2013. Depression Alliance is launching Friends in Need to help end the loneliness that accompanies depression. And Action on Depression in Scotland has launched a new campaign ‘Never judge a book…’ to tackle stereotypes about depression.

To speak to a counsellor one-to-one about depression, email or call 07956 823501.