Seek the right kind of social support

Spending too much time talking about problems can actually make things worse.

Social isolation increases your risk of depression. But according to psychologist Amanda Rose, PhD, so can the wrong kind of friendships.

In her research, Rose has found that friendships that are overly focused on discussing problems may actually increase depression and other problems in girls.

Rose and her colleagues studied 813 elementary and middle school girls and boys for six months. The researchers examined what they called “co-rumination,” the tendency to spend too much time talking over problems and dwelling on negative feelings.

They found that co-rumination made girls feel closer to their friends. However, they also found that co-rumination increased depression and anxiety. That in turn led to more co-rumination.

Girls may see discussing problems as a way to give and seek support, says Rose. Instead, the conversations seem to make them more depressed. Those feelings of depression and anxiety then led to more co-rumination.

For boys, co-rumination improved the quality of their friendships but had no impact on depression or anxiety levels.

In an earlier study, psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, found that ruminating can actually drive friends away.

While ruminators reach out for others’ help more than nonruminators, they report receiving less support.

At first, friends may respond sympathetically. After a while, though, they tend to get frustrated or mad and pull away. Of course, that gives the ruminators something more to ruminate about.

Nolen-Hoeksema offers tips on how to stop ruminating:

  • Distract yourself with meditation or prayer

  • Take small steps to begin solving problems.

  • Reappraise negative thoughts about events or other people’s expectations.

  • Let go of unattainable goals.

  • Develop multiple sources of self-esteem.

Adapted from the APA Press release “Someone to complain with isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially for teenage girls,” and "Probing the depression-rumination cycle," APA Monitor on Psychology