Researchers have suggested that building a strong connection to a social group helps clinically depressed patients recover and helps prevent relapse.
For the paper, (CIFAR) Senior Fellow Alexander Haslam, lead author Tegan Cruwys and their colleagues at the University of Queensland conducted two studies of patients diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The patients either joined a community group with activities such as sewing, yoga, sports and art, or partook in group therapy at a psychiatric hospital.
In both cases, patients responding to survey questions who did not identify strongly with the social group had about a 50% likelihood of continued depression a month later.
But of those who developed a stronger connection to the group and who came to see its members as 'us' rather than 'them,' less than a third still met the criteria for clinical depression after that time. Many patients said the group made them feel supported because everyone was "in it together."
While past research has looked at the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression, Haslam, a member of CIFAR's Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being (SIIWB) program, says it has tended to emphasize interpersonal relationships rather than the importance of a sense of group identity.
This paper is in press at the Journal of Affective Disorders.