14.02.2023 change 14.02.2023

Researchers study relationship between gratitude and depression in women

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Gratitude may be associated with decreased vulnerability to depression in women, according to research by scientists from the SWPS University who analysed the relationship between dispositional gratitude and well-being in women at risk of clinical depression.

The study conducted by Joanna Tomczyk, Professor John Nezlek and Professor Izabela Krejtz may contribute to a better understanding of the functioning of women at risk of depression.

The results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The researchers from SWPS University show that grateful disposition may be the opposite quality to a ruminative tendency (recurrent negative thoughts), as it encourages people to remember the positive aspects of their lives.

A university press release said: “Gratitude may be associated with reduced vulnerability to depression through increased acceptance and helps in building a good environment for applying adaptive emotion regulation strategies.”

Depression affects more than 280 million people worldwide and is one of the most common mental illnesses. A difference between men and women in the frequency of depression exists from an early period of adolescence. Women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men. This difference persists throughout life.

According to the SWPS University release, depression in women can have completely different symptoms than in men. Women tend to internalise their symptoms, which manifests itself through low mood, rumination (recurring negative thoughts), anhedonia (loss of ability to experience pleasure), and a lack of a sense of self-worth. On the other hand, men tend to externalise their symptoms, often showing anger and taking risks.

Due to differences in the course of the disease between people of different genders, researchers focused on assessing the risk of depression specifically among women. 131 women who were at risk of developing clinical depression based on an assessment of depression scale results participated in the study. 35 of them had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, and 96 had not. The participants filled out a questionnaire to measure dispositional gratitude, well-being, anxiety, and acceptance of the disease.

“Previous research has shown that people who are more grateful are less depressed and have lower levels of depression symptoms. If they develop this disease, gratitude helps to alleviate its symptoms. Feeling gratitude also increases well-being, understood as life satisfaction, subjective feeling of happiness, positive emotions, satisfaction with relationships, and self-evaluation,” the press release said.

Joanna Tomczyk, a psychologist at SWPS University and co-author of the study, said: “Grateful people more easily accept what they have in life - even if they are aware that they do not feel good or they experience anxiety. People with a high dispositional gratitude may look at the world from a different perspective or, more specifically, use different cognitive processing methods for events and situations that occur.

“Gratitude involves appreciating what a person has in life and it seems that the more we are able to do this, the more we can perceive our suffering in an adaptive way. This may mean greater understanding that although we are suffering, the disease does not define us. Diseases create problems and suffering, but if these problems and suffering are perceived in the context that includes the appreciation of the positive aspects of life, it will be easier to live with them.”

Therefore, according to the researcher's interpretation, a person who accepts their disease understands that the situation is unfavourable and adapts to the limitations that arise. “This is associated with a high level of self-awareness and a willingness to learn new coping strategies,” the university added. 

The findings of researchers from the SWPS University also suggest that accepting one's condition is an important part of recovery as it allows for mental functioning and protects the individual's well-being.

Tomczyk said: “We found that acceptance of the disease mediates the relationship between gratitude and mental health, which in our opinion can help understand how gratitude contributes to mental health and well-being. 

“The results presented suggest that acceptance of the disease may be a type of adaptive coping mechanism. People suffering from a disease accept the fact that they have a particular condition and still try to live their life. 

“Gratitude seems to facilitate such beliefs, which in turn leads to a mental health improvement. It is believed that one of the factors that increase the susceptibility to depression is the tendency to create cognitive distortions (thoughts associated with negative emotions and containing logical errors) and focus on negative stimuli.

“Gratitude, on the other hand, allows to focus on positive stimuli, which can help break the vicious cycle of automatic negative thoughts leading to depression.” (PAP)

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