Fighting Depression in Groups
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03-31-14 Category: Mental Health

Depression is the most common mental health disorder in America; with about 14.8 million adults (6.7 percent of the population aged 18 and older) meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder in a given year. Anyone of any gender, age, background, socioeconomic background, and race can develop depression, although it is more common in women than in men and the median age of onset is 32.5.

How Depression Works

Depression can disrupt a person’s life, and it is the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44. Symptoms of depression include “persistent” feelings of sadness and hopelessness for at least two weeks, fatigue, a lack of energy, changes in weight or appetite, and no longer enjoying favorite activities.

Depression often leads to feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, ennui, lack of motivation, and other symptoms. It can cause a person to become disengaged from activities and people, and be absent from school and work. It can also damage relationships, especially as a person isolates him- or herself due to the negative feelings associated with the disorder.


Depression is treatable, with most treatment plans including a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. The medication can cause unpleasant side effects including headaches, nausea, fatigue, dry mouth, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and nervousness.

In some cases, antidepressants increase suicidal thoughts and tendencies, especially in those under the age of 25. Some people have to try several different types of antidepressants and dosages before finding the one that works the best with their body chemistry. The downsides of antidepressants cause many people, patients and medical professionals alike, to search for alternative ways to overcome their depression so that they are not reliant upon medication.

What The Case Studies Show

Studies have shown some complementary alternative therapies help prevent and treat depression, including mindfulness activities such as yoga and meditation, and exercise. Additionally, having a strong social network has been shown to diminish a person’s risk of developing depression. Interpersonal relationships, which have been the focus of most studies linking social interactions and depression, also can help a person overcome their depression.

Group therapy and other activities also facilitate a person’s recovery from depression; however, the reason group therapy is so beneficial for the disorder is not well researched. A recent study provides some insight into the benefits of group interaction in treating depression.

Researchers from the University of Queensland looked into the benefits of social groups for clinically depressed patients. They conducted two longitudinal studies involving patients who were diagnosed with clinical depression. One group enrolled in various community recreational groups, including sewing, yoga, sports, or art. The other group took part in group therapy sessions at a psychiatric hospital.

Both groups answered questionnaires to monitor their experience in the groups and the progression of their depression. In both studies, those who did not identify with the social group had a 50 percent likelihood of having depression a month later. However, less than one-third of the patients who developed a strong connection to the group, including feeling a part of the group and seeing its members as “us” rather than “them,” still met the diagnostic criteria for depression after a month. Additionally, many of the patients said that they found being a part of the group was helpful because it made them feel part of something where everyone was “in it together.”

This study provides clear evidence that joining groups, especially if a person identifies with the members, is a valuable complementary treatment for depression. This is not the first study to focus on the importance of social connection in treating depression. Many studies have shown that interpersonal relationships are important components in the treatment of depression. However, this is the first to focus on group dynamics, rather than interpersonal relationships.

Continuing Research

The researchers plan to continue their study, focusing next on what makes people decide to bond with the group and identify as a part of the group. They will also search for how this identification might create a support network for the person, as well as provide a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning, factors that can help a person struggling with depression.

The researchers hypothesize that the findings will involve aspects about both the group and the individual, including how welcoming and accommodating the group is to the person and how the person feels he or she fits with the group. The biggest limitation to this study is that whether a person is involved in a group or not is subjective, so participants cannot be randomly assigned.

For now, this study provides some insight into the power of group therapy and group dynamics in treating patients with clinical depression. Although a sense of belonging and identifying with a group cannot be forced, medical professionals should still encourage patients to join a group, whether for recreational activities or psychotherapy.

At Sovereign Health Group, we utilize group psychotherapy sessions in our treatment programs for mental health disorders (including depression), addiction and dual diagnosis. In addition to group psychotherapy, our programs also include individual psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, life skills and coping mechanisms education, and more for a well-balanced, holistic approach. You can learn more about our programs here, or you can call our Admissions team at 866-264-9778.

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

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