Is depression contagious? The short answer is: yes—it’s not called the common cold of mental illness for nothing.
But like most things, it’s complicated. Depression is contagious, but it’s not as if you get infected when your depressed friend cries on your shoulder. Instead, your own susceptibility or immunity depends on lots of things–your genetics, history, stress, and more.
It’s been known for almost a decade that both healthy and unhealthy behaviors are contagious—if your friends quit smoking or become obese, you’re more likely to do so, too. Even suicide can come in clusters.
Depression comes with its own set of unhealthy behaviors—pessimistic talk, criticizing self and others, cancelling social plans, getting into unhealthy sleeping and eating patterns, and generally being irritable or withdrawn. And it turns out that these behaviors—and the negative beliefs that drive them—can be communicated from person to person.
So roommates of depressed college students, children of depressed parents, and yes, for the listener who requested this episode, spouses of depressed partners also show comparable depressive symptoms.