Prevent depression with ‘social connection,’ researchers say

A strong social life may be key to preventing depression, researchers found in a new study.

A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard University explored a range of factors associated with depression risk and collected data from more than 100,000 participants in the U.K. Biobank, which is a “world-renowned cohort study of adults,” according to a hospital press release.

The factors included sleep patterns, physical activity, diet, social interaction, and media use, among others. The study was published Friday in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers concluded that confiding in others, as well as visiting family and friends, better protected against depression than the other factors. They also said reducing time spent sedentary, like watching TV and daytime naps, could help prevent depression as well.

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A strong social life may be key to preventing depression, researchers found in a new study. (iStock)

“Far and away the most prominent of these factors was frequency of confiding in others, but also visits with family and friends, all of which highlighted the important protective effect of social connection and social cohesion,” Dr. Jordan Smoller, senior study author and associate chief for research in the MGH Department of Psychiatry, said in a hospital press release.

“These factors are more relevant now than ever at a time of social distancing and separation from friends and family.”

The researchers said further study is needed to figure out why time in the front of the TV may contribute to depression.

“Additional research is needed to determine if that risk was due to media exposure per se or whether time in front of the TV was a proxy for being sedentary,” per the release.

Researchers said reducing time spent sedentary, like watching TV and daytime naps, could help prevent depression as well. (iStock)

Researchers said reducing time spent sedentary, like watching TV and daytime naps, could help prevent depression as well. (iStock)

On a surprising note, “the tendency for daytime napping and regular use of multivitamins appeared to be associated with depression risk,” the researchers also found, per the release. However, “more research is needed to determine how these might contribute,” they noted.

“Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, but until now researchers have focused on only a handful of risk and protective factors, often in just one or two domains,” said Karmel Choi, an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the paper, in the press release. “Our study provides the most comprehensive picture to date of modifiable factors that could impact depression risk.”

The researchers’ approach involved two stages, the latter of which used a statistical approach to find the factors’ causal relationship to depression risks, per the release.

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