Here's yet another reason to make those plane reservations for the new year: A 2015 study says frequent in-person social contact with friends and family significantly cuts the risk of depression in older adults. Telephone calls and emails didn't make much of a difference in dealing with depression, researchers found.

"People who had the most contact, at least three times a week face to face, had the lowest rates of depression two years later," says Alan Teo, M.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that those who had face-to-face contact with friends and family every few months had an 11.5 percent chance of developing symptoms of depression two years later. Those those who had talked to others in person at least three times per week had about half that risk.

The comforting quality of the relationship does matter in dealing with depression. "Stressful interactions are not good," Teo says. "Ask yourself: Do I get along with this person? Do I like that person? If so, make the effort to spend time face to face."

Teo says the researchers were surprised to find no consistent reduction in risk for depression among those who stayed in touch via telephone or email. The study looked at more than 11,000 people over six years; one-third were in their 50s, one-third in their 60s, and the rest were 70 and older. A little more than 50 percent lived in a two-person household. 

A Contributor to Disease

"Depression is underappreciated," Teo says. "And it's so common in older adults. It has a huge impact on our ability to function, on the quality of our life."

The group at the highest risk, he says, are those 70 and older who don't have family close by. To reduce the risk of developing depression, Teo advises finding a network that creates an opportunity for socializing, such as a book club. "Build it into your routine. I liken it to exercise—it's not a one-time thing. You have to do it regularly to find a benefit."

Teo says the researchers did not look at video exchanges. Still, he suspects that chatting via Skype or FaceTime could provide a modest benefit in dealing with depression.

Find more information about mental health screenings in your state. If you can't find a convenient location, try this anonymous online screening tool.