Research published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in 2009, found an association between depressive symptoms and reduced emotional disclosure.
The research examined the tendency of 831 college students to avoid the expression of emotion and also, in a separate experiment, examined the amount of emotional disclosure of 153 students asked about an emotional event that occurred during the previous week. Both groups of students also completed measures of depression and anxiety. The authors of the study found an association between depressive symptoms and lessened emotional disclosure, but did not find a strong association between emotional disclosure and anxiety.
Unlike previous studies on emotional disclosure and depression, this study examined the both event-specific emotional disclosure and general emotional disclosure. Previous studies had focused solely on general emotional disclosure.
According to social sharing theory, after experiencing a distressful event, people will seek out others to share their emotions with, but according to this new research, it appears that those affected by depression are less likely to display this social sharing behavior. Those suffering from depression tend to perceive a reduced social network and also tend to withdraw from social activities. This social withdrawal may explain the disruption of social sharing behavior or it may be the result of a general attempt to avoid negative emotions.
This study also elucidates the importance of self-disclosure for positive outcomes in psychotherapy. As the authors of the study noted,
“Promoting emotional disclosure – both inside of therapy and out – would seem to be a particularly important technique for individuals with heightened symptoms of depression”
Kahn, J.H. & Garrison, A.M. (2009). Emotional self-disclosure and emotional avoidance: Relations with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(4): 573-584. DOI: 10.1037/a0016574