Love may banish the blues for women more easily than for men, according to a new study. Supportive, loving relationships offer women protection against major depression—but not men, according to researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Study

In the study of 1,000 pairs of adult, opposite sex, fraternal twins, the research team found that compared with their brothers, the female twins were more apt to fall into a depression if they felt they received little emotional support from spouses, parents and other relatives.

"In women, social support was a robust predictor of risk for depression," says lead author Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human genetics. "Women who saw themselves as more loved and cared for and objectively well integrated in positive social groups were well protected against later episodes of major depression." However, the researchers saw virtually no such effect in the male twins.

"In this large sample, we could find no relationship in men between their levels of social support and their risk for depression," Kendler says. "These findings suggest that men may be more 'immune’ or less sensitive to aspects of their social environment with respect to their risk for depression."

The findings suggest there are important differences between women and men in the factors leading to depression. According to Kendler, research suggests that women tend to look for contentment in interpersonal relationships, whereas men are less likely to do so.

That doesn't mean men are always happy on their own, however. "While the impact of low social support on risk for major depression appears to be less pronounced in men than in women, males may be more sensitive to the adverse health effects of social isolation than are females," Kendler explains.

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