Spending time with friends and family in person can lower depression risk in older adults, according to a new study led by Alan Teo, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of psychiatry at OHSU and researcher at the VA Portland Health Care System. The study, published this week in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reaffirms research that has long supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s mental health. But this study was a first look at how the type of communication with friends and loved ones plays a role in mitigating symptoms of depression. The findings aren’t that surprising: Face-to-face social interactions beat out phone calls, email and Facebook in terms of keeping depression at bay.
Teo and colleagues assessed more than 11,000 adults aged 50 and older in the U.S., looking at the frequency of in-person, telephone and written social contact and the risk of depression down the road. The researchers found that having little face-to-face interaction nearly doubles the risk of having depression two years later. They also reported that having more or fewer phone conversations, or written or email contact, had no effect on depression.
The study also detected significant differences between the types of individuals – family member versus friend – that participants should socialize with in order to have the most impact on their depression levels. Among adults aged 50 to 69, frequent in-person contact with friends reduced depression risk. In contrast, adults 70 and older benefited from in-person contact with children and other family members.
The study – “Does mode of contact with different types of social relationships predict depression among older adults? Evidence from a nationally representative survey” – included input from Teo, HwaJung Choi, Ph.D.; Sarah B. Andrea, M.P.H.; Marcia Valenstein, M.D., M.S.; Jason T. Newsom, Ph.D.; Steven K. Dobscha, M.D., OHSU; Kara Zivin, Ph.D.
Read more about the study here.