Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions and is the leading cause of disease burden worldwide. Older, isolated adults who have little regular social interaction may be particularly at risk.
Researchers in Canada wanted to look at whether interventions that aim to facilitate interaction and connection among individuals could reduce depression. The most common treatments for depression, medication and psychotherapy, may not be available, accessible, preferred or effective for everyone.
Study authors Emma Nagy, Ph.D. and Spencer Moore, Ph.D., M.P.H., reviewed two dozen studies looking at social interventions for depression among older adults and found that most of the studies showed significant reductions in depressive symptoms. They looked at interventions that engaged individuals with others in their broader social networks; they did not include partner or family interventions. The interventions often combine strategies to address depression, such as peer support, skill building, group-based activities, psychoeducation, psychotherapy, exercise and links to community resources.
According to study authors. their findings suggest a variety of different types of social interventions that may work to help improve mental well-being among adults. For example, one study they looked at involved a mutual support group where participants ideas, experiences and problem solving to help improve communication and coping skills. Sixty percent of participants reported improvements, a result similar to a group involved in cognitive behavioral therapy.
The researchers note several advantages of social interventions:
• They can work even with limited resources
• They can reach vulnerable groups
• They have advantages beyond improving mental health, such as increasing social support and self-esteem, and some may have physical health benefits also.
In addition to the research on interventions to address depression, some research has also found that social interaction may be preventive, lowering the risk of depression among older adults. One study found that among elderly adults, the risk of depression was much lower in the people who participated in two or three physical, social or religious activities than that those who did not.
Social interaction and connection is important for everyone’s well-being. If you’re not sure how to get started, taking a class or volunteering may be good first steps. In many communities, classes are available on a variety of activities, hobbies and interests. Many communities have online volunteer clearinghouses to help you connect to volunteer opportunities to fit your time and interest.
By APA Staff
Nagy, E., Moore, S. Social Interventions; An effective approach to reduce adult depression? Journal of Affective Disorders, 2017. 218:131-152