Researchers from the Netherlands, Canada and San Francisco, collaborated on a study that evaluated the relationship between depressive symptoms and self-disclosure in partners dealing with cancer. The team enlisted 64 participants who had been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and their partners. They assessed the individuals for depressive symptoms using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, at three and nine months after the original diagnosis. Additionally, the researchers asked the couples to participate in a discussion relating to their cancer, eight weeks after the diagnosis. During this conversation, the participant with the cancer (patient) was encouraged to vocalize a specific concern they had. Their partner’s responses, emotional, cognitive and behavioral, were recorded by the researchers.
The team found that the patients who had more symptoms of depression were also more likely to disclose their concerns to their partners. However, the team did not find this to be true when the healthy partner was the one sharing their emotions. “Mutual self-disclosure was not associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms in patients and partners as compared with one-sided self-disclosure or low disclosure in both patients and partners,” they said. “It is important to note that decreases in depressive symptoms over time were least prominent in couples in which the partner disclosed a lot whereas the patient disclosed little.”
Because partners seek each other’s support in times of stress, these findings may provide insight into the consequences of sharing too much or too little. “These results suggest that mere disclosure of emotions and thoughts to one’s intimate partner is not beneficial in reducing distress,” said the researchers. “Partners’ self-disclosure toward patients who disclose few emotions and concerns even appears to be harmful both for patients and partners, given that it reduces the decrease of depressive symptoms over time.” The researchers suggest that a patient should consider talking to a mental health professional regarding their health concerns, rather than disclosing all to their partner.
Hagedoorn, M., Puterman, E., Sanderman, R., Wiggers, T., Baas, P. C., van Haastert, M., & DeLongis, A. (2011, June 20). Is Self-Disclosure in Couples Coping With Cancer associated With Improvement in Depressive Symptoms?. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024374
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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