We already knew that strong friendships have beneficial effects on your health, including lowering risky behavior and increased longevity. Well, new studies show that friendship is good for your mental health as well! A study published in Proceedings B shows that “having sufficient friends with healthy mood can halve the probability of developing, or double the probability of recovering from, depression.” The study found that a good mood and healthy outlook on life can actually spread through a friend group like a contagion – that a depressed teenager with five or more healthy friends was more likely to recover from the depression. And that’s good news! Common sense used to dictate that it was depression that was contagious – but it turns out that, in a group with several depressives, there’s often another factor such as alcoholism that is at the root.

So besides encouraging our children to develop strong social bonds, how else can we help them bolster their mental health? Well, one method is to help your kid stick to a healthy diet. A diet that is high in nutrients, antioxidants, and “smart carbs” like whole grains can all have a beneficial effect on a person’s mental health. Kids especially should avoid excess refined sugar, which can impact the activity of a growth hormone called BDNF, which promotes healthy brain neurons. Finally, a lack of Vitamin D can be a major contributor to depression – so even in the winter months, be sure your kids are getting exposed to natural light.

If you, or someone you know, suffers from depression, you should visit your primary care physician. They can recommend a mental health professional who can help you through cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, or both.

So, since we now know that friendship can help prevent depression in the first place, be sure to make time for your friends!