How keeping someone else's secret could hurt your mental health

Being told a secret can feel good – it means that you are worthy of being trusted with sensitive information. However, keeping other people's secrets can also take a toll on your mental health, research has revealed.

According to the study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we're the keeper of around 13 personal secrets on average at any given moment, but also keep 17 secrets of others' at the same time – totalling 30 secrets in all.

"We know a little bit about how people feel about keeping their own secrets, which is often weighed down, burdened," Katharine Greenaway, from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, one of the study’s co-authors, told the ABC.

"We were interested in whether that burden might actually transfer over when someone else tells you a secret."

For the research, Greenaway and colleague Michael Slepian interviewed more than 600 people using a questionnaire that classified 38 different kinds of secrets – including personal secrets, such as health issues and addiction – and secrets that involve other parties, such as infidelities and theft.

However, they found that the burden comes not from the category of secrets, but from the significance of the secrets themselves.

Secret-holders who feel close to the confider are more likely to feel more burden, especially if the secret is related to the people both parties know of.

"It's a very social thing, keeping a secret … You need to know who knows the secret, who to guard that information from and of course to not stray to topics of conversation that might reveal the secret," Greenaway said.

"It can be really socially taxing as well as personally taxing."

But secrets are not always a burden. While negative secrets tend to weigh you down, positive secrets can have exciting and energising effects, as they are likely going to be revealed anyway, Greenaway said. 

There are more positive sides to having someone confide their secrets in us. Sharing secrets can result in a closer relationship, as it increases feelings of intimacy.

"Even though we feel burdened, we can also have this offsetting of that cost by feeling a greater sense of intimacy or closeness with the person who had confided in us," said Greenaway.

She also said taking in people’s secrets "distinguishes you from others". The research identified that people who we choose to confide in tend to be "compassionate", "empathetic" and "kind". Other types of individuals that are generally trusted with others' secrets are the assertive kind, who Greenaway said "are the people that are going to get us the help that we need".

Do you keep anybody else's secrets? Do you find it a burden? Share your thoughts in the comments.

This article was written in partnership with Over60.