Partner's Criticism Hampers Recovery From Depression

March 19, 1998

The amount of criticism, hostility or emotional involvement which a person exhibits towards the partner when he or she is suffering from depression, has an unmistakable influence on the progress of the latter s condition. When patients are subjected to less criticism from their partner, their condition improves more rapidly. This has been demonstrated in a study carried out at the University of Groningen with support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

It is normally assumed that when someone is depressed his condition elicits involvement on the part of his or her partner. If this involvement takes the form of rejection, the patient becomes even more depressed and he then reacts by expressing an even greater need for involvement. This in its turn reinforces the rejection, meaning that the relationship between the partners deteriorates until one of them often decides to break it off. It therefore seems that the method depressives use to seek contact has exactly the opposite effect to what they want.

The study has shown that the mutual involvement between depressed patients and their partners is frequently less than it is between them and third parties. The research team recorded and analysed conversations between partners, quantifying the frequency and duration of activity expressing involvement, such as active listening.

The negative relationship between depressives and their partners is partly caused by the way in which they assess one another's mood. In order to measure the way they do this, the researchers used pictures of facial expressions (see illustrations), some of which were ambiguous, containing a combination of a positive and negative expression. Depressives and their partners turn out to interpret these expressions more negatively than people who are not depressed.

Further information:
Dr. William W. Hale III (Academic Hospital Groningen)
T 31-50-361-2036, F 31-50-361-1699

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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