Can you catch a mental illness? The answer may seem obvious: No, mental illness is not contagious in the way that physical illnesses can be. However, recent studies indicate that the answer also can get a little complicated.
For instance, according to a 2014 study, published in the Journal of Memory & Cognition, explored the beliefs about whether various mental illnesses are communicable from person to another. A number of participants actually believed that mental illness could spread from one person to others over time.
“Emotional contagion”: A means for spreading mental illness?
Although it’s clear that mental illness isn’t transmissible between people through physical means, scientists also know that one person’s emotions can affect the emotions of others, NPR notes. The phenomenon is known as “emotional contagion.” Scientists also know that symptoms of some mental disorders can seemingly spread among loved ones and peers.
For example, a 2013 study from Indiana University found that depression and associated emotions can spread among groups. Friends of depression sufferers were more likely to display symptoms of the condition six months later. Other research complicates the picture, however, finding that individuals who have trouble coping with stressful events are more susceptible to depression.
Indeed, it appears that symptoms of at least some mental illnesses can spread to friends and loved ones. But many people also hold false views about exactly how mental illnesses spread. Those false beliefs — that mental disorders can be “contagious” and spread independently of other factors — affect the likelihood of interacting with sufferers, researchers in the 2014 study noted.
Investigating beliefs and their effects
Many study participants believed that mental disorders can be transmitted between individuals with little impact from factors like causation, whether psychological or environmental. Those views played a significant role in willingness to be near someone with a mental illness. In the study, undergraduate students answered questions about a variety of mental disorders and rated the likelihood of “catching” the disorder through close contact.
Participants also answered questions reflecting how likely they would be to interact with someone suffering from various disorders. The study found that willingness to interact with an individual suffering from mental illness was based largely on beliefs about how “contagious” the disorder is.
Impact on behavior toward mentally ill individuals
Most people understand that individuals suffering from mental illness often are treated differently. People may actively avoid sufferers, or they may harass or bully them. Negative social interactions can result in self-blame, isolation and other harmful outcomes for people struggling with mental disorders.
Research into beliefs about communicability of mental illness provides some insight into the stigmatization and isolation of sufferers. It also creates hope that with better education, such false beliefs — and the discriminatory behavior they fuel — could become a relic of a bygone era.
As one of the very first programs in the country to base its treatment upon Social Integration, our mental health facilities offer help through a unique mix of individualized therapy and group residential programs with a clear focus towards achieving more independent living. This is because one of the most obvious and unfortunate responses to people with cognitive and emotional disabilities is that other people simply do not want to be around them. This often includes family and friends. By providing real life treatment experiences, we build appropriate interpersonal skills so our residents can rebuild relationships with family and friends, and even make new friends.
Pasadena Villa programs set out to create a comforting environment while promoting mental health and a socially fulfilling future. Our mental health professionals work directly with residents. They observe them in actual social situations and incorporate these observations directly into the resident’s ongoing treatment plan. This individual real life personalized attention makes the Pasadena Villa treatment experience more appropriate, relevant and beneficial for each of our residents, especially when compared to any other available adult residential treatment mental health services.
The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. Pasadena Villa’s Outpatient Center in Raleigh, North Carolina offers partial hospitalization (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (PHP). If you or someone you know may need mental health services, please complete our contact form or call us at 407-574-5190 for more information.