Regular face-to-face communication reduces the risk of depression in older adults by half, a new study finds.
In comparison, socialising by phone or email does not have the same beneficial effect.
Dr Alan Teo, who led the study, said:
“Research has long-supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s mental health.
But this is the first look at the role that the type of communication with loved ones and friends plays in safeguarding people from depression.
We found that all forms of socialization aren’t equal.
Phone calls and digital communication, with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression.”
The conclusions come from a study of over 11,000 adults aged over 50.
The types of social contact they engaged in were examined and they were followed up two years later.
Researchers found that telephone calls and emails had little protective effect against the risk of developing depression.
Face-to-face contact was the key.
People who’d met up with family and friends three times a week had the lowest incidence of depression — just 6.5%.
Amongst those who only met up once a month, 11.5% had developed depression.
This is almost twice as many.
At certain ages it also mattered with whom people socialised.
For those between 50 and 69, depression was reduced most by socialising with friends.
For those over 70, though, it was family members that had the greatest protective effect.
There was one caveat:
“..at least in older adults’ relationships with their children […] if frequent contact is also characterized by interpersonal conflict, risk of depressive symptoms is greater rather than less.”
In other words: apparently some grandchildren are bad for your mental health!
Dr Teo’s study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society (Teo et al., 2015).
Phones provide poor comfort
The findings reinforce another recent study on depression and mobile phones.
This found that depressed people who turn to their phones for comfort can make things worse (Kim et al., 2015).
Professor Prabu David, who led the study, said:
“…despite all the advances we’ve made, there is still a place for meaningful, face-to-face interaction.
The mobile phone can do a range of things that simulate human interaction.
It seduces us into believing it’s real, but the fact remains it’s still synthetic.
If you have a chance to see someone face-to-face, take it.
Life is short.”
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