Helping others is a selfless thing to do, though it may have the added benefit of people helping themselves recover from depression. A recent study conducted at The Ohio State University found that being kind significantly helped people with moderate to severe depression and anxiety.
The study was part of a thesis by PhD student David Cregg. The results of the study showed that on top of improved symptoms, being kind also helped the participants feel more connected to others.
“Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections,” Cregg said.
Cregg conducted the research along with co-author, Jennifer Cleavens, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University. As part of the study, which was recently published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, the pair also found out why kindness worked so well to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It turns out taking their minds off their own problems helped the participants.
“We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that,” she said.
“Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.
The study had 122 participants, each separated into three different groups. Two of the groups used cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques. One of those groups planned social activities, whilst the other used cognitive reappraisal techniques, where the participants kept a record of their behaviours to help them identify negative thought patterns.
The third group, the kindness cohort, had to perform three acts of kindness two days a week. Kind gestures people completed included leaving post-it notes with encouraging words for roommates, baking cookies, and offering rides to friends.
All groups saw an improvement in symptoms.
However, the group who performed kind acts saw the biggest improvement for both social connection, and improved symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction,” Cregg said.
“But acts of kindness still showed an advantage over both social activities and cognitive reappraisal by making people feel more connected to other people, which is an important part of well-being,” he continued.