Social connections help young people with depression

Dr Tegan Cruwys from the ANU Research School of Psychology says a program to improve social connections could be just as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy when it comes to treating depression.

Dr Cruwys is currently leading a trial of the program, called Groups 4 Health, which is being run in partnership with Australian Rotary Health and Headspace.

“The program aims to reduce loneliness in young people, with the goal of improving health,” says Dr Cruwys. “It focuses on helping people to understand why groups are important for health, identifying one’s own social world, building meaningful social connections and maintaining those connections for the future.”

“We see that the more people felt connected to a particular group, the more they get out of it, in terms of their health.”

Groups 4 Health comprises five modules, run over five hours, and involves groups of five to eight young people with depression working with two facilitators.

Results from the program have been promising. Participants said they had strengthened their group memberships, left toxic friendship groups and found other groups more similar to them.

The program has also been developed to help people get through particular challenging circumstances.

“Some of my colleagues have been adapting Groups 4 Health for an educational context, specifically for people starting university,” says Dr Cruwys. “The hope is that it will build belonging and help people enjoy university more – and through this, enjoy better health.”