Stress-filled work atmospheres or workplaces with negative vibes from bullying bosses can lead to depression that spreads across the workforce. And depression can lead to increased absences and decreased morale and productivity.
According to a new study from the University of Notre Dame, a particular style of thinking that makes people vulnerable to depression actually can be “contagious” to others and increase their symptoms of depression 6 months later.
Research on depression has shown that people who interpret stressful life events as the result of factors they can’t change and as a reflection of their own deficiency are more vulnerable to depression. This “cognitive vulnerability” has been shown to be such a potent risk factor for depression that it can predict who is likely to experience a depressive episode in the future, even if they have never been depressed before.
Vulnerability to depression has been shown to solidify in early adolescence and remain stable throughout adulthood. However, the Notre Dame research shows that it may be “malleable or ‘contagious’ during major life transitions when our environments are in flux (think mergers or layoffs). In the study, the contagion effect was evident at both the 3-month and 6-month assessments.
The good news is that it can be fixed. “Our findings suggest that it may be possible to use an individual’s social environment as part of the intervention process, either as a supplement to existing cognitive interventions or possibly as a stand-alone intervention,” according study author and Notre Dame psychology professor Gerald Haeffel. “Our study demonstrates that cognitive vulnerability has the potential to wax and wane over time depending on the social context, which means that cognitive vulnerability should be thought of as plastic rather than immutable.”
The study is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
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