The Influence of Social Relationships in Depression


By Sebi Fishta

The qualities of social relationships play a significant role in an individual’s mental health. The way an individual perceives the social connections influences depression. In this research report, I discuss symptoms of depression as coping mechanisms used by an individual when faced with adversity in social relationships. According to Hagen, depression is a response to adversity. The benefits of depression are important to consider when comparing depression to sadness and low mood as a way to cope with social adversity.

Furthermore, I discuss the implications of the medical treatment for people with depression using Antidepressant (AD) drugs. To do this, I provide evidence that calls into question the effectiveness of AD drugs in comparison to other treatments.  Finally, I provide evidence of the important role the social relationships have in symptoms of depression. I explore the significance of certain emotional elements such as excessive worrying, depression and life-stressors, guided by the quality of the relationships within the social environment.

A person can be depressed due to problems with social relationships

Social relationships are a powerful external cause that can affect an individual’s depression. Often depression is treated as an isolated set of descriptive symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is unknown if depression is a result of certain behavior or that behavior is a result of some preconditioned set of symptoms that can amount to depression. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and diminished interest in activities. If a person feels sad then it can be inferred that there will be a decrease in the amount of pleasurable activities and result in social withdrawal. A person can be depressed, due to problems with social relationships. Depression may be disabling to a person, but no matter how sad or socially withdrawn an individual may appear, social relationships can “open the prison” and free them from being “locked inside the misery”.

The power of social relationships

In today’s modern world social relationships are changing constantly and this change offers plenty of adversity.  This adversity triggers the mood to elevate accordingly as a means of coping. Hagen compares Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with sadness and low mood and states “depression is a response to adversity”. He discusses the possible benefits of better understanding “sadness and low mood” as helping mechanisms, its functions, and learning more about the benefits the mechanisms offer. Recent studies have proven the power of social relationships in decreasing the symptoms of. Hurd and Zimmerman offer a way to reduce the symptoms of depression in young mothers by studying the effects of a natural mentor.

People who have a mentor have better outcomes in behavior

A natural mentor is an adult other than parent, stepparent, younger brother/sister, or friend. Hurt and Zimmerman studied the African American young mothers and found that when a young mother engages in a relationship with a natural mentor after having a child, the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress reduced significantly. Similarly other studies found that young people who had a mentor had better outcomes in behavior, education, and work in comparison with those that did not have a natural mentor.

Even though the researchers admit that natural mentoring alone may not be the ‘cure’ to depression, the presence of a natural mentor presents a positive correlation with health outcomes. Researchers support the positive effects social relationships have on symptoms of depression emphasizing that having a good relationship in place after the loss of a parent increases the chances of having a better quality in relationships and decreases the number of symptoms of depression later in life.

AD Drugs vs. Placebo

In a review article Arroll, Elle, and Fishtaman, which included fourteen randomized controlled trials, using patients 18 to 65 years of age, showed that with patients having mild to moderate symptoms of depression, there is little or no benefit from the use of antidepressant medications compared with placebo. However, the same article shows that in patients suffering with severe depression, the medications were more beneficial in comparison to the placebo.

The authors admit that the pharmaceutical companies sponsored most of the fourteen trials. Due to the financial benefits that the sponsors of these trials had in this study, the results should be carefully taken under consideration when considering the effectiveness of AD drugs in comparison to placebo in treating severe symptoms of depression. The mere fact that a combination of AD drugs did work for some people with severe depression does not set a precedent for the rest of the people suffering with depression, especially since the cause of it is still open for discussion.

When worrying becomes excessive?

To adapt to the social changes, an individual will mobilize his or her unique way of coping, therefore, the mood will elevate accordingly. Changes within the social environment and its relationships can bring stress and worrying to a person, due to the quality of the existing relationships and uncertainty and stress that changes in the social relationships can cause. When worrying becomes excessive, psychological states are affected.

Therefore, depression can be a result of “excessive worrying”. When using a non-clinically diagnosed population, Szabo found that there is a positive correlation between the “uncontrollable worrying” and an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression. She concluded that much of the worrying is related to relationships within the social environment. Szabo’s findings of a positive correlation in “excessive worrying” and an “increase in symptoms of depression” means that a person’s mood will elevate in order to adapt and cope with “excessive worrying”.

One can argue that Szabo’s findings are limited because she used college students as subjects for the study. However, other studies concluded that the fear and worrying of losing a parent after having lost one parent, could lead to problems in forming and maintaining relationships later in life while increasing the symptoms of depression. Similarly, having a child at a young age requires adaptation to the new social environmental changes for a young mother.

Natural mentoring relationships

To conclude, depression is a response to adversity and is expressed with sadness and low mood. When an individual struggles in creating or maintaining social relationships then feelings of sadness and low mood may appear. If feelings of sadness and low mood depend on the existence and quality of the social relationships then more emphasis should be paid to the social relationships as a significant part of healing process. The role of social relationships in depression is vital; therefore, depression should not be treated as a set of descriptive symptoms or a medical illness.

It is recommend that youth should find ways to create “natural mentoring relationships”. Therefore, they can have a better quality of life in adulthood. Social relationships are changing constantly and this change brings adversity due to stress and worry. Depression as a response to stress and worry has its benefits. Depression is a way that a person copes with emotional pain and using AD drugs to eliminate or minimize this emotional pain has not proven to be an effective method and may even have negative effects.



Sebi Fishta, is a Licensed Clinical Therapist in the state of Michigan. In 2008 he started working in one of the largest community mental health communities agencies in the US. Here he worked with people who suffered with severe and persistent mental illness, amongst others; schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety.

He also has a deep interest and extensively practices testing and assessment (psychometrics) for several clinics. Sebi has also worked with heroin addicts at BioMed Behavioral Healthcare Clinic where he experienced working with even more extreme life conditions. Currently Sebi is executive/clinical director for Sher Psychiatry & Associates. He also teaches basic, intermediate, and advanced seminars in psychometrics. He is also a part-time faculty in the local community college and assistant instructor at Oakland University.

*This article was originally produced for Oakland University in Rochester Hills Michigan, USA in July of 2012.