Treating depression is challenging. Anti-depressant medications are commonly prescribed for this purpose but individuals may experience adverse side effects such as drowsiness, sexual dysfunction, and weight gain that cause many people to stop taking them. A third of people also do not respond to either antidepressant or psychological therapy, and four of five who do recover, become depressed again later. Indeed, on average, people relapse about four times across the course of their life.
So new strategies for treating the illness are desperately needed, especially in places where medication and psychotherapy may be unaffordable or unavailable. Accumulating evidence now supports a simple, inexpensive approach that may fill a large part of the treatment gap. Our research and that of others shows that joining a group, or several groups, can both prevent and cure depression. The type of group does not matter, but the group must matter to the individual. To make a difference to your wellbeing, the club, band, or team that you join must be (or become) an integral part of who you are.
In our research, we show that social identity is the “active ingredient” of social connectedness that is curative for depression. We have also found evidence that social identity is protective against the development of depression and that when a person with depression joins a social group, their risk of relapse is reduced by 24%.
Finally, we have also conducted research on depression in stigmatised groups, including people experiencing homelessness, people who self-define in terms of their mental illness, and disadvantaged community groups.