Positive psychology, empathy, compassion and gratitude were protective of feelings of Depression during ongoing pandemic ~
New research carried out by mental health charity Aware analysing the general population’s response to the Covid19 pandemic has revealed a widespread negative view of ourselves, the world, and other people during the peak of the 2021 lockdown.
However, it also highlights that positive thoughts and emotions, such as empathy, compassion and gratitude, were protective of mental health.
The study led by Aware board member Dr. Keith Gaynor, Assistant Professor and Senior Clinical Psychologist at UCD, shows that in a time of global threat, negative feelings and beliefs may be “realistic, appropriate and normal”.
The research carried out between December 2020 and February 2021, during one of the longest periods of lockdown in the Republic of Ireland, aimed to explore cognitive responses to the pandemic, in order to better understand underlying beliefs of both those reporting and not reporting symptoms of depression, within the context of a period of realistic health, economic and social threat. The ultimate objective of the study is to identify appropriate psychological interventions to protect the mental health of the population during this unique period of time.
The study surveyed a sample of 555 adults who were asked to complete open text questions which began with the prompts: “I am…/I am not…”; “Others people are…/Other people are not…”; “The world is…”.
As part of the research process, participants also completed the DASS-21 measure of Depression, Anxiety and Stress. The statement responses between those who screen above and below the clinical cut-off for moderate and severe depressive symptoms were then compared. The study showed a noticeable overlap in responses especially in terms of negative cognitions/thoughts, between people who screened above and below the cut-off for moderate depressive symptoms. The largest distinct difference was the lack of positively framed thoughts among those screening above the cut-off for moderate depressive symptoms.
The research findings highlight the importance of developing positive mental wellbeing during the pandemic and suggests approaches such as Positive Psychology or Compassion-Focused Therapy which emphasise positive emotions such as empathy, and gratitude, may be helpful within the general population and particularly protective for those experiencing depressive symptoms.
Commenting on the findings, principal researcher/author of the report, Dr. Keith Gaynor, said, “This research is really valuable because we’re hearing from people in their own words about how they feel. There’s very little research out there like that. This pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to compare responses among those with high and low depression scores at a time of known threat to all members of the population.
Continuing, he said, “What our research found was that negative thoughts were pretty universal. Having negative thoughts during a pandemic is a pretty normal, natural reaction. This is a really negative event and there’s something really important about normalizing feeling negative about a lockdown or other negative events that we’re experiencing. However, when we looked to see what the core differences were between those who are depressed and those who are not depressed, you could see that people who are not depressed have had negative thoughts, but we’re able to balance them with positive thoughts.
“We went one step further with the analysis to determine what makes up those positive components. It was things like empathy for people who were suffering, gratitude for the positive aspects of people’s own situations, and compassion for neighbours, friends and family who were in difficult situations.”
Concluding, Dr. Gaynor commented on what needs to be done at public health level in order to protect the mental health of the population during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“We don’t need to challenge negative thoughts, necessarily, but we do need to help people build positive responses of empathy, compassion and gratitude to help protect our mental health. Our research highlights the importance of developing a positive cognitive framework to the pandemic and indicates that approaches such as Positive Psychology or Compassion-Focused Therapy which emphasise positive emotions, empathy, and gratitude may be particularly helpful.”
Dr. Gaynor has also written a free mental health workbook entitled Coping During Covid which is accessible on aware.ie. The research was funded by the RTÉ does Comic Relief Fund at The Community Foundation for Ireland.
Aware, which was established in 1985, is the national organisation providing free support, education, and information for people impacted by depression, bipolar disorder, and related mood conditions. Over the last year, 30,000 people have directly benefited from Aware’s support services, and a further 8,000 people took part in education programmes facilitated by Aware. The organisation expects sustained high levels of demand during 2022 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
If you are impacted by depression, bipolar disorder or other mood related conditions, you can contact Aware’s free support line 7 days a week from 10am to 10pm on 1800 80 48 48.
Aware has launched their Christmas appeal. Depression they say “robs you of the simple joys of life. It drains your motivation to the point where you can’t get out of bed. It’s seeing darkness where there should be light, feeling despair where you should feel hope.” Depression is a serious condition that directly affects individuals and families across Ireland and Aware ensures that no one has to go through it alone. Every day, Aware provides vital support to people impacted by depression and bipolar disorder but they can’t do this without your help. Make a real difference this Christmas by donating today at aware.ie.
For more information on Aware and the supports it offers, visit aware.ie.