Is Your Roommate Making You Depressed?

Being an international student comes with many challenges. You are far from home, adjusting to a brand new culture, and possibly having to operate using a second or third language. Many international students are accustomed to being high achieving students, and may underestimate the effect that culture shock and other adjustments may have no their academic success. Although studying internationally can be an exciting and rewarding experience, the challenges that it presents can become overwhelming. For this reason, international students are particularly vulnerable to depression.

Depression Study

In a recent paper published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, psychologists Gerald Haeffel and Jennifer Hames examed the question, “Is your roommate making you depressed?” According to the report, results found that roommates can have strong effects – both positive and negative – on each other’s mental health.

Haeffel and Hames studied students’ reactions to doing poorly on a test; students who reacted with “catastrophic thinking” – who blamed themselves for doing poorly and imagined failing the test or even college entirely – were at a higher risk of depression than students who merely thought “I will do better next time,” and bounced back.

In the study, Haeffel and Hames measured the way students responded to these situations, then tracked pairs of roommates who had similar thinking styles and pairs who had different thinking styles. They then measured to see how these roommates affected each other.

The Results

The study showed that negative thinking was “contagious” – that if you came to college and your roommate had a very negative thinking style, your own thinking style became more negative. The reverse also proved to be true: students who tended to have more gloomy outlooks who were paired with roommates with cheery outlooks found themselves adopting their roommates’ more positive thinking styles. Haeffel compares this phenomenon to learning a language: if you are suddenly immersed in a culture in which everyone speaks a new language, you will pick up the language more easily. The same applies to moods.


International students might find it helpful to bear this in mind while adjusting to their new environment: positive thinking is contagious, not just your own, but others’ as well. Try not to let minor setbacks spiral into something bigger; remember that you are resilient, and you can bounce back. If at all possible, try to spend time with optimistic, cheerful people, not only because their moods might rub off on you, but also because there are genuinely enjoyable to be around. Also check out our top 5 tips for staying fit and healthy when abroad, your general well being physically will go a long way to helping you mentally!

Posted by Jennifer Frankel

Jennifer is the International Director at International Student Insurance. Jennifer is a graduate of the University of Florida where she holds a Masters in International Business and a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration. She has lived and worked abroad in Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and England, and traveled extensively in South America, Europe and Asia.

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