Helping a partner through stress as they deal with depression boosts their mental health later, say scientists.
It can be tempting to pull back, but tough as it may be, helping a lover stick it out pays dividends in the long run.
Keeping the relationship healthy
Professor Matthew Johnson, said: “Efforts from a partner to help alleviate stress may prevent the development or worsening of mental health problems and, in fact, could help keep the relationship healthy.”
Stress takes a toll on physical and mental health, as well as close relationships, so that support can help a person better cope with it.
Explained Prof Johnson said: “When we experience stress, especially high levels of stress, we are particularly vulnerable and perhaps that is why partner support in those times is so impactful and long lasting.”
The study published in Developmental Psychology surveyed 1,407 couples across six years and found the support given when a mate was feeling stressed was linked to future feelings of self worth and depression.
For example, men’s feelings of self esteem got a boost from supporting a depressed partner.
Prof Johnson said: “Giving to their partner made them feel better about themselves.”
For women, receiving support from their partner led to increased self esteem and reduced depression in the future.
The study also showed women with higher self esteem and men with fewer symptoms of depression received more support from their partners in times of stress.
Prof Johnson said: “Those who have better mental health to start with may have the capacity to reach out for support when needed and are better able to manage stress on their own, but they are likely not the people who would benefit most from a partner’s help.”
But giving support to a partner who needs it most can be difficult.
He said: “When someone is depressed or has low self worth, they may lash out.
“A partner offering support reaffirms feelings of depression and helplessness, of the feeling they have to pick up the slack.”
In the face of negative reaction, Prof Johnson suggested offering “invisible support.”
He said: “Studies suggest offering support your partner may not even be aware of, but would still be a helpful gesture, like taking care of a sink full of dirty dishes they have not seen yet. You can offer support, just do not draw attention to it.”
Other ways to help a partner struggling with feelings of sadness or self doubt include lending an empathetic ear if they want to express themselves and on a more practical level, “handling the logistics of daily life by offering to take on tasks that aren’t normally yours.”
This can include planning meals or driving children to school, added Prof Johnson.