Can Love Cure Depression?

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Many of us would like to believe in the magical properties of love. Love can feel magical and especially when you are falling in love. In fact some studies have shown that the act of falling in love can elicit the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine. Mood enhancing chemicals are released such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopression. Love must be a very powerful agent to be able to change our body chemistry. And what about the stories of mothers
who can suddenly lift a vehicle from their child's body? A mother's love combined with adrenaline has the potential to elicit seemingly super human powers. There is also research, as reported in the New York Times, to show that feelings of intense love can actually relieve physical pain. The researchers involved in this Stanford University Study found that study participants who looked at a picture of a loved one reduced moderate pain by almost 40% and lessened severe pain by as much as 15%.

So if love can do all these amazing things, could it also cure depression?

Call me a curmudgeon but it is my opinion that love, in and of itself, cannot cure depression. I wish it could because then it would be so easy to eliminate depression and other mental disorders. We could simply love the mental illness away. And many of us get caught up in this way of thinking. Just look at the many questions and shareposts we receive from the girlfriends and boyfriends as well as spouses of a depressed loved one. We hate to see our loved one depressed and suffering so we imagine that we can cure it by simply loving the person out of their depression. This is a fantasy many of us would like to believe but it simply is not true. In a previous post I talked about when it comes to depression, sometimes love is not enough.

Here are just some of the emotional traps we set for ourselves when we believe that love can cure depression:

  • We think things like, "If my (boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse) really loved me they would not be depressed. Love is not the opposite of depression. One can still feel love and also feel depressed. But when you are depressed your ability to express love may be impaired.

  • We may place the responsibility of our loved one's mental wellness on our ability to love them enough. When we do this we hinder our loved one's growth and responsibility to help themselves.

  • When our love cure doesn't work then we may feel resentful and disillusioned. We may question our own self worth for not being able to love away our partner's depression.

  • The very act of trying to cure someone's mood disorder can destroy the relationship. Instead of focusing upon being with the person through this bad time, we may turn all our energies into trying to change them. Love is not about achieving a desired outcome. Our depressed loved one is not a weekend project.

  • In some cases the wish to cure the depressed boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse covers up significant relationship problems. It is a common question on our site to ask, "If my depressed loved one gets better, will they love me again?" In some situations the relationship itself can be a stressor which contributes to the depression. As difficult as it may be to accept, some people suffering from depression may end a relationship so that they can heal and grow.

Perhaps we began with the wrong question. Instead of asking, "Can love cure depression?" maybe we should ask, "Can love and support help our depressed partner?" The answer to the latter question is a resounding yes. Simple acts of love such as listening without judgment or gentle encouragement can do wonders for someone who is suffering. Just knowing that someone cares can give the person with depression some hope that they should not give up. Perhaps the greatest fear of someone who is depressed is that they are no longer loveable. Showing that you still care despite the depression provides a solid foundation of unconditional love and is a catalyst for healing.

It goes without saying that we would like your perspective on this topic. Do you believe that love can cure depression? Or do you feel that attempting to cure someone of a mood disorder can do more damage than good? Let us know your thoughts. We are eager to hear from you

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."