Socialising can help reduce the symptoms of depression, new research has revealed.
Spending time with a friend, going for a coffee or visiting a museum are among activities found to help people with mental health problems.
A study, carried out by researchers from University College Dublin and led by Dr Ann Sheridan, saw participants given €20 a month to spend on taking part in a social activity.
At the beginning, 20% of the 100 taking part who had already been receiving treatment for depression said they had no contact with friends.
A third of them never talked to neighbours, 35% lived alone and half never attended social groups.
“By the end of the study, all of the participants reported feeling better about themselves, having more confidence to socialise in their community, and experiencing fewer symptoms of depression,” said Dr Sheridan.
The subjects took part in a social activity for at least two hours a week, some were paired with a volunteer to form a friendship, and they were all asked to keep a diary of their social activities.
Figures show that around 390,000 adults across the country experience some form of psychological distress at any given time.
As many as 320,000 of those contact their GP in connection with mental health problems.
“The evidence from this study is unequivocal,” added Dr Sheridan, a lecturer at the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems at UCD.
“Supporting the development of positive relationships and increasing social activity helps with the treatment of mental health difficulties.”
Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People Kathleen Lynch officially launched the report, which was funded by the Health Research Board.
She said the study showed that conventional medical treatments for depression can be supplemented by social support from family and friends.
“Increased social interaction helps sufferers to rebuild their self-esteem, which in turn enables them to maintain and develop positive relationships and friendships,” the minister added.