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According to a new study, building a strong connection to a social group helps clinically depressed patients recover and helps prevent relapse.
For this research, two studies were designed for patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The first group asked that the patients join a group with a common activity like yoga, sewing, sports and art. The second group took part in a group therapy program at a local psychiatric hospital. For both of these groups, those patients who did not identify strongly with their fellow group members showed a 50% likelihood of continued depression a month later. For those who developed strong connections, less than a third were clinically depressed a month later. Many patients surveyed said the groups made them feel like they were not alone, that they were “in it together”.
“We were able to find clear evidence that joining groups, and coming to identify with them, can alleviate depression,” noted CIFAR’s Senior Fellow Alexander Haslam, a member of CIFAR’s Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being (SHWB) program.
Past research has focused on the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression. These studies emphasized interpersonal relationships rather than group dynamic. Prior to this, there was no understanding of why a group setting worked. “Our work shows that the ’group’ aspect of social interaction is critical,” Haslam noted.
“The group is a major source of encouragement, it has also helped to hone our questions in important ways - so we have asked the right questions and looked in the right places for answers.” What factors encourage people to join a group and internalize the identity, how this leads to a sense of support, belonging and purpose are questions that need to be answered.
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