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Surprise! In-person interactions prevent depression better than emails and texts

We’re social animals — it’s just the way the cookie crumbled. For the most part, even the most introverted of human beings need some sort of human contact every once in a while, and face-to-face interactions may still be better than sending an email or a text. Despite what we may think about staying connected via technological advances, a new study suggests that when it comes to staving off depression, actually seeing your friends does a whole lot more good than sending them an emoji.

The effects of actually seeing your friends in person are particularly salient in older individuals, and according to the Oregon Health and Science University study, those who reported “regular interactions with family and friends” were 5 percent less likely to face depression when compared to peers who only maintained phone, text, or email relationships.  “We see a dose dependent effect with in-person contact,” says Dr. Alan Teo, a professor of psychiatry at OHSU. “The more face-to-face meetings, the lower the [depression] rates go.”

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In conducting their study, researchers examined the interpersonal interactions of more than 11,000 Americans aged 50 years and older. Study participants were then monitored for two years for risks and signs of depression (other factors including health status, distance from family members, and mental health history were also taken into account). Ultimately, doctors found that respondents who had regular face-to-face interactions with their friends and family (at least three times a week), faced only a 6.5 percent chance of developing depression. On the other hand, those who only saw their friends or family once every few months or even more infrequently had an 11.3 percent risk of developing depression.

Overall, some 9.5 percent of American adults suffer from depression at some point in their lives, so study results would suggest that having these in-person meetings with loved ones more frequently actually helps with overall psychological health.

Of course, this isn’t to say that emails, texts, and other digital forms of communication are bad for us as a society. Indeed, an increase in messaging devices and mediums certainly allows human beings to stay more connected to one another. But at the end of the day, Teo says, emails, texts, and even phone calls, “are no substitute for face-to face contact.”

While the study only examined older Americans, researchers believe that similar results may be extrapolated to millennials as well. However, with young adults’ widespread adoption of various social media outlets, Teo is curious as to the effects of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms on feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation.

“In one of my next studies,” he said, “I am now trying to measure all different types of social media use to see how that plays out with mental health outcomes, particularly in younger adults.”

So take note, friends. The next time you’re sharing a laugh or a gif via text or email, consider actually sharing some time in person. You may just put yourself in a better mood by doing so.