People who strongly identify with social groups, such as sports clubs or choirs, may have a reduced risk of experiencing mental health problems, two studies have found.
Scottish psychologists set out to investigate the link between group identification - a person's sense of belonging to a group - and their mental health.
In one study, over 1,800 adults were asked whether they identified with their family, their local community and any social groups. They also reported if they were affected by depression and their medical records were checked to see if they had been prescribed antidepressants in the last six months.
The study found that those who did not identify with any group were almost 20 times more likely to be depressed. They were also three times more likely to have been prescribed antidepressants in the last six months, compared to those who identified with their family, community and a social group, such as a sports club.
The second study looked at over 1,100 secondary school pupils. They were asked whether they identified with their family, friends and school. They were also asked about feelings of psychological distress.
The psychologists found that pupils who did not identify with any group were four times more likely to have experienced psychological distress than those who identified with their family, friends and school.
The results stood even when other factors, such as age and socioeconomic status, were taken into account.
"Group life may shield people from depression. However, this can only happen when one subjectively identifies with in-groups. In addition, the more groups we identify with, the better our mental health is likely to be," commented Prof Fabio Sani of the University of Dundee.
Details of these findings were presented at the recent annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology in Glasgow.
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