With connecting to people is becoming more easier than ever due to the mushrooming online platforms, experts have warned that they should be careful about who they become friends with as despair and distress can spread through close social networks, up to "three degrees of separation" – or a friend of a friend of a friend.
Doctors, therefore, should consider "social prescribing" — where patients who present with depression are helped to engage with positive activities within their networks.
"The major implication is that instead of only resorting to medication, or individual psychological treatment, clinicians should also look to immediate social networks and wider social context including the influences of friends and family and wellbeing at work," said Tarun Bastiampillai from Flinders University in Australia.
Therapeutic interventions can include analysing "depression clusters" and developing more positive and healthy social networks — from relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours to joining a sporting club or hobby group to expand the social network, the researchers said in a letter published in the journal The Lancet.
"More now than ever, we have ways to connect to other people online. Our diary can be full and our lives busy, but are we connecting in a meaningful or harmful way via these online and offline social networks?," Bastiampillai asked.
"Clinicians may need to look beyond an individual’s psychology and look at the individual’s wider social network and the negative or positive impacts it has."
In a hyperconnected world, traditional social networks – face-to-face contacts of daily life – are unravelling with the loss of social supports which is associated with increasing "deaths of despair" related to alcohol, opiate overdose and suicide "becoming more prevalent than ever", the psychiatrists warned.